IAN BIRRELL: UN experts say lab leak was the ‘most likely’ cause of Covid-19 and accuse top British and American scientists of helping China to suppress debate on the issue
- The authors of a UN report into origins of pandemic believe cause was a lab leak
- They have accused British and US scientists of helping China to supress debate
The authors of two United Nations reports into the origins of the pandemic say they believe a laboratory leak was the most likely cause of Covid-19, accusing top British and American scientists of helping China deliberately to suppress debate on the issue.
The distinguished professors hit out at the ‘cover-up’ in a damning joint article for The Mail on Sunday that calls for ‘re-evaluation of the likely pathways that caused this pandemic’.
They say ‘a pall of suspicious secrecy, deceit and conflicts of interest’ shrouded high-risk experiments being carried out in Wuhan, the Chinese city where Covid first appeared, and argue that it was ‘enforced not only by China but by Western funding bodies and influential Western scientists’. The dramatic intervention comes from epidemiologists Colin Butler (based at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health in Canberra, Australia) and Delia Randolph (of the University of Greenwich, London).
They say ‘a pall of suspicious secrecy, deceit and conflicts of interest’ shrouded high-risk experiments being carried out in Wuhan
‘I realise speaking out may be unpopular, even reducing my work opportunities, but the scale of this pandemic is far more important than any personal considerations,’ Professor Butler said yesterday.
He added that it was vital to restore trust in science – and that his investigations for the report led him to conclude that ‘gain of function experiments’, which can boost the infectivity of lethal viruses, ‘could rival nuclear weapons in their potential for harm’.
The two public health experts were commissioned, soon after the virus emerged in China, by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to study the causes and consequences of Covid amid suggestions at the time that its origins lay in a wild animal market in Wuhan.
Professor Randolph, lead author of the first report, admits that she was concerned by the possibility of a lab ‘pathway’ but felt that the agency ‘was averse to including anything so controversial’ in the study that she led.
Prof Butler was initially sceptical about a lab leak, but he fought to include mention of the theory in his report as evidence began to emerge about hidden data, controversial ‘gain of function’ experiments and the risky research environment in Wuhan.
He believes publication was deliberately stalled for ten months until its eventual release last autumn with minimal publicity only after his personal appeal to the report’s funder.
The professors’ two reports are substantial and they stress that, ‘unlike some key actors in the Covid origin debate’, they have no financial or scientific ties to Wuhan or ‘gain of function’ research.‘We accept “natural origin” is possible with ‘zoonotic’ transmission from nature to humans – yet, strangely, there remains no sign of any evidence to support this theory,’ they write.
Last week, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the world’s biggest public funding body for science, was criticised by an official watchdog for failing to keep tabs on US-sponsored virus experiments in Wuhan
Last week, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the world’s biggest public funding body for science, was criticised by an official watchdog for failing to keep tabs on US-sponsored virus experiments in Wuhan or ‘understand the nature of the research conducted’.
The MoS revealed last year that Sir Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust, a leading research charity, had criticised biosecurity in Wuhan laboratories as the ‘Wild West’ in emails to the NIH director discussing possible origins of the coronavirus.
Profs Butler and Randolph single out Sir Jeremy – who has since been appointed chief scientist at the World Health Organisation – as among the key figures in suppressing this debate.
UNEP declined to comment on these issues yesterday.
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