(Guest post by Matthew Ladner)
On February 19, 2020 a group of 27 public health officials published a joint letter in the medical journal Lancet that read in part:
The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumours and misinformation around its origins. We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin. Scientists from multiple countries have published and analysed genomes of the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging pathogens.
This is further supported by a letter from the presidents of the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine and by the scientific communities they represent. Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus. We support the call from the Director-General of WHO to promote scientific evidence and unity over misinformation and conjecture. We want you, the science and health professionals of China, to know that we stand with you in your fight against this virus.
We invite others to join us in supporting the scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of Wuhan and across China. Stand with our colleagues on the frontline
We speak in one voice. To add your support for this statement, sign our letter online. LM is editor of ProMED-mail. We declare no competing interests.
Competing interests were not declared, rather they were concealed.
I should note from the outset that I do not know whether COVID-19 originated in wildlife or in a lab. Neither do those who signed on to the letter, either today or back in 2020. Wuhan has both a wet-market and a laboratory that conducted experiments on bat viruses, and one of these two things is far more common in Chinese cities than the other and the pandemic started in (checks notes) Wuhan. Only someone deep in the throes of delusion inspired by self-interest or an utterly unsophisticated dupe would not want to explore the possibility of a lab leak.
Peter Daznak drafted the first draft of this letter, and an analysis found that 26 of the 27 original signatories had ties to the EcoHealth Alliance. After the publication of this letter, Daznak was appointed to a commission to explore the virus origins by Lancet and on another organized by the World Health Organization. Later he was removed from both. Sleuthing revealed that EcoHealth had made grants to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for experiments on bat viruses, that EcoHealth had engaged in some heavily criticized lobbying of the National Institute of Health officials in order to skirt rules specifically designed to prevent a pandemic, and that multiple safety concerns had been raised by Chinese officials regarding the security of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Some of the signatories later said that it had been their intention to push back on the notion that Chinese officials had released the COVID-19 virus on purpose. You’d have to be a Roger Moore era Bond Villain to do such a thing and you’d be needing an incredibly reliable vaccine to create your post-pandemic utopia on the ashes of the old world, which China shows no sign of having. Allegedly Daznak himself insisted on keeping the statement “broad” in denouncing a lab origin.
The first paragraph in the above quote is really a piece of work- a true masterpiece of licking the boot stomping of a human face forever. Chinese officials were anything but “rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data.” For instance as Annie Sparrow related in Foreign Policy:
Instead of notifying the World Health Organization (WHO) about the outbreak of atypical pneumonia and evidence of human spread, the authorities censored information, concealed the virus, and silenced doctors who tried to warn their colleagues. Hospital leaders refused to authorize masks or other personal protective equipment (PPE) on the grounds that it would cause panic. As patients infected health care workers and health care workers infected one another, hospital leaders insisted that spread among humans was impossible—that no staff members were infected—even altering diagnoses that suggested otherwise.
Beijing’s official line through Jan. 19, 2020 was that the outbreak began in late December 2019, that all cases had been infected by an unidentified animal source at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, and that no health care workers were infected. But even when the government conceded human spread on Jan. 20, it reported only a fraction of the real numbers.
Instead authorities engaged in a pattern of demonstrable lying and covering up, threatening doctors involved in early warnings and restricting information. On Jan. 3, 2020, when China formally acknowledged the pneumonia outbreak, authorities told the WHO they had no idea what was causing it. In fact, by then, the new coronavirus had been sequenced several times—beginning with Vision Medicals on Dec. 27, 2019; BGI Genomics on Dec. 29, 2019; Wuhan Institute of Virology on Jan. 2, 2020; and China’s CDC on Jan. 3, 2020. On Jan. 5, a consortium led by professor Zhang Yongzhen at Fudan University in Shanghai sequenced it, deposited it in GenBank, the U.S. public database of DNA sequences, submitted it to Nature, and shared it with China’s National Health Commission (NHC).
This letter is Exhibit A of the abuse of scientific “authority” and why many of us have drawn the unavoidable conclusion that grandees and technocrats are not to be trusted. Oh, and in addition his sketchy grant-making and lobbying may have been a single step upstream from causing a global pandemic that killed millions of people and damaged the lives of millions more. I am not certain about that last part, just that there was an obvious effort to cover up the investigation of the possibility of a lab leak through the abuse of authority. It is therefore my distinct pleasure to nominate Peter Daznak for the Higgy.
Bumper crop of great nominees this year! Buckle up, Higgy fans, it’s down to the wire.