It's Just the Coffee Talking: A good article about the mystery of this pandemic and why so many powerful people don’t seem to feel any sense of urgency about solving the first great mystery.

This morning I read an interesting article to ponder while I sip my morning coffee(s).  :)

You can read the entire article here:  https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2022/02/21/the-lab-leak-origin-of-covid/


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Made in China: On the Lab-Leak Origin of Covid

".... There are two naturally occurring viruses that are par­ticularly similar to SARS-CoV-2. The first is RaTG13, which shares 96.2 percent of its genome with SARS-CoV-2, according to a paper released by the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s Shi Zhengli. This virus was collected from bat feces in a copper-mine shaft in Tongguan, Mojiang, Yunnan Province, China, that was the site of a small-scale deadly viral infection with some curious similarities to Covid.

In 2012 and 2013, teams of researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology conducted a study of coronaviruses in bats in that abandoned mine shaft — and one of the samples they collected was RaTG13.

The second virus that is particularly similar to SARS-CoV-2 is really a cluster of three similar viruses discovered in Laos in autumn 2021. A team led by Marc Eliot, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, collected saliva, feces, and urine samples from 645 bats in caves in northern Laos and found three new viruses that were each more than 95 percent identical to SARS-CoV-2, which they named BANAL-52, BANAL-103, and BANAL-236."

 

"....EcoHealth Alliance has earned its scrutiny and suspicion in the two years since the Covid pandemic started. Science writer David Quammen joined Chmura on a trip to China in 2009. In Quammen’s 2013 book, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, he describes his conversation with Chmura about the lack of safety gear:

At this moment I became conscious of a dreary human concern: Though we were searching for SARS-like coronavirus in these animals, and sharing their air in a closely confined space, none of us was wearing a mask. Not even a surgical mask, let alone an N95. Um, why is that? I asked Aleksei. “I guess it’s like not wearing a seat belt,” he said. What he meant was that our exposure represented a calculated, acceptable risk. You fly to a strange country, you jump into a cab at the airport, you’re in a hurry, you don’t speak the language — and usually there’s no seat belt, right? Do you jump out and look for another cab? No, you proceed. You’ve got things to do. You might be killed on the way into town, true, but probably you won’t. Accepting that increment of risk is part of functioning within exigent circumstances. Likewise in a Chinese bat cave. If you were absolutely concerned to shield yourself against the virus, you’d need not just a mask but a full Tyvek coverall, and gloves, and goggles — or maybe even a bubble hood and visor, your whole suit positive-pressurized with filtered air drawn in by a battery-powered fan. “That’s not very practical,” Aleksei said.

Oh, I said, and continued handling the bagged bats. I couldn’t disagree. But what I thought was, Catching SARS — that’s practical?"

 

 

"....Bat coronaviruses are the specialty of virologist Tian Junhua. In 2017, the Chinese state-owned Shanghai Media Group made a seven-minute documentary about him, entitled “Youth in the Wild: Invisible Defender.” Videographers followed Tian Junhua as he traveled deep into caves to collect bats. “Among all known creatures, the bats are rich with various viruses inside,” he says in Chinese. “You can find most viruses responsible for human diseases, like rabies virus, SARS, and Ebola. Accordingly, the caves frequented by bats became our main battlefields.”

Ominously, Tian Junhua described being infected with viruses during his excursions, getting sick, and self-isolating for two weeks. As stated in a May 2017 report by Xinhua News Agency, repeated by the Chinese news site JQKNews.com:

In the process of operation, Tian Junhua forgot to take protective measures. Bat urine dripped on him like raindrops from the top. If he was infected, he could not find any medicine. It was written in the report. The wings of bats carry sharp claws. When the big bats are caught by bat tools, they can easily spray blood. Several times bat blood was sprayed directly on Tian’s skin, but he didn’t flinch at all. After returning home, Tian Junhua took the initiative to isolate for half a month. As long as [infection during] the incubation period of 14 days does not occur, he will be lucky to escape.

We know for a fact that the people collecting samples do not always follow the necessary safety procedures. And the risk of accidental infection does not disappear once the viruses and bats are brought back to the laboratories."

 

"....In October 2014 — not too long after the embarrassing but nonfatal incidents at the CDC and FDA — Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, announced a pause in federal funding of gain-of-function research experiments with influenza, SARS, and MERS viruses, as NIH wanted to evaluate whether the research was worth the potential risks. But NIH allowed one ongoing international research effort to continue, an effort that included Ralph Baric, an infectious-disease researcher at the University of North Carolina, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s Shi Zhengli.

In 2015, that team of scientists, Vineet Menachery and colleagues, announced in Nature Medicine that they had “generated and characterized a chimeric virus expressing the spike of bat coronavirus SHC014 in a mouse-adapted SARS-CoV backbone.” This was a new kind of virus that was resistant to existing treatments: “Both monoclonal antibody and vaccine approaches failed to neutralize and protect from infection with CoVs using the novel spike protein.”

The announcement inflamed the concerns of certain re­searchers that gain-of-function research was too risky — that it generated too little useful knowledge and created the potential for disaster. In a 2015 article by Declan Butler in Nature, Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute, warned that “if the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory.” In the same article, Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist and biodefense expert at Rutgers University, concurred: “The only impact of this work is the creation, in a lab, of a new, non-natural risk.”

"....Baric dismisses the notion that his work ever contributed to the creation of a supervirus. But over the course of 2021, Baric did grow more concerned about the safety standards in Chinese laboratories. In September 2021, Baric told CNN: “Their papers indicate that they did much of their work with these bat viruses under Biological Safety 2 conditions. There are many more laboratory accidents or laboratory-acquired infections in BSL-2 as compared to BSL-3. We do all the research in our lab on bat-related coronaviruses under Biological Safety 3 enhanced conditions. We wear portable air-breathing apparatuses with tied-back suits so the workers are protected from anything that might be in the laboratory.”

"... In early January 2018, the proud Chinese scientists invited U.S. scientists to tour the Wuhan institute, the crown jewel of the Chinese Academy of Science’s viral research. But U.S. consul general Jamie Fouss and Rick Switzer, the embassy’s counselor of environment, science, technology, and health, were more unnerved than impressed by what they saw, and they sent two sensitive but unclassified memos back to Washington.

The first memo, dated January 19, 2018, states that the in­stitute’s “current productivity is limited by a shortage of the highly trained technicians and investigators required to safely operate a [Biosafety Level] 4 laboratory and lack of clarity in related Chinese government policies and guidelines.” The second memo, dated April 19, 2018, noted that the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s “English brochure highlighted a national security role, saying that it ‘is an effective measure to improve China’s availability in safeguarding national bio-safety if [a] possible biological warfare or terrorist attack happens.’”

 

"....(Before the pandemic, Chinese research scientists had engineered a supply of mice with “humanized” lungs, to give a better sense of how these viruses would affect human beings.

Some U.S. officials have wondered if the Chinese scientists’ supply of mice with “humanized” lungs had a more sinister purpose, as part of an effort to develop viruses more likely to kill human beings. But at this point, there is no concrete evidence that the virus research in the Wuhan labs was connected to a desire to develop biological weapons.)

The NIH revealed last year that EcoHealth Alliance had un­intentionally made viruses more virulent during their research work with the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2019. “The limited experiment described in the final progress report provided by EcoHealth Alliance was testing if spike proteins from naturally occurring bat coronaviruses circulating in China were capable of binding to the human ACE2 receptor on a mouse model,” NIH’s Lawrence Tabak wrote.

“All other aspects of the mice, including the immune system, were unchanged,” the letter continued. “In this limited ex­periment, laboratory mice infected with the SHC014 WIV1 bat corona­virus became sicker than those infected with the WIV1 bat coronavirus.” NIH emphasized that “as sometimes occurs in science, this was an unexpected result of the research, as opposed to something that the researchers set out to do.”

EcoHealth was supposed to notify NIH if it enhanced a virus’s ability to grow by a factor of ten. Instead, the work with the Wuhan Institute of Virology created novel coronaviruses that enhanced viral growth by 1,000-fold to 10,000-fold — and the heavier viral loads made the mice sicker."

 

 

"....Shortly after the Wuhan Institute of Virology was achieving these breakthroughs in gain-of-function research, making bat coronaviruses much more contagious, another potentially ominous event developed: According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. intelligence determined that three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care “with symptoms consistent with both Covid and common seasonal illness.” They may have just had the seasonal flu. Or they may have brought their work home with them, so to speak.

Finally, there is the undeniably suspicious behavior of the Chinese government since the first cases were reported in Wuhan in December 2019. Until January 21, 2020, the Wuhan Regional Health Commission insisted that “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission has been found.”

On January 4, 2020, former CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield was incredulous during a phone call with his Chinese counterpart, George Gao. Redfield described asking his old friend Gao, “George, you don’t really believe that mother and father and daughter all got it from an animal at the same time, do ya?” Gao insisted there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. But Redfield recounted that two days later, Gao broke down during a call, “audibly and tearfully distraught after finding ‘a lot of cases’ in the community who had never visited the wet market.”

In late January and early February, the Chinese government ordered all labs processing samples of the strange new virus to destroy them. On January 3, China’s National Health Commission ordered institutions not to publish any information related to the unknown disease and ordered labs to transfer any samples they had to designated testing institutions, or to destroy them. The justification for this order was public safety, although it is hard to see the public-safety benefit in suppressing information about the disease.

It took a year to get a World Health Organization investigative team into Wuhan, and when that team arrived, it encountered angry refusals to turn over raw data about the earliest cases.

According to the New York Times, “disagreements over patient records and other issues were so tense that they sometimes erupted into shouts among the typically mild-mannered scientists on both sides.” The Chinese government has refused to allow another team of investigators to enter Wuhan or the labs in the city. The Chinese government does not care if it looks guilty.

A much-hyped U.S. intelligence-community investigation completed in August offered almost nothing useful, declaring, “All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident.” Ninety days of effort, with all the resources of the U.S. government, generated nothing new."

 

 

The first great mystery of this pandemic is how it got started — a question that must be answered to adequately prepare us for another pandemic in the future.

The second great mystery of this pandemic is why so many powerful people don’t seem to feel any sense of urgency about solving the first great mystery.

 

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You can read the entire article here:  https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2022/02/21/the-lab-leak-origin-of-covid/