Yet enough already is known about the WIV to suggest this lacks credibility. In 2018 U.S. officials warned in diplomatic cables about safety and management issues at the WIV that could lead to a pandemic. This is especially troubling because the WIV conducted “gain of function” research on coronaviruses that theoretically can enable them to infect a new species.
The U.S. State Department warned in a January fact sheet that WIV researchers had developed “symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses” in autumn 2019. The WHO report nonetheless takes the Chinese government at its word when it says there was “no reporting of COVID-19 compatible respiratory illness during the weeks/months prior to December 2019.”
Shi Zhengli of the WIV said last week that the lab has no ties to the Chinese military. But the State Department said in January that “the WIV has collaborated on publications and secret projects with China’s military” for years. The U.S. claims were based on extensive intelligence, and the Biden Administration hasn’t disputed the findings. Did the WHO team even examine U.S. evidence?
The WHO’s tissue-thin analysis isn’t surprising. Chinese government scientists provided most of the data and worked with the international team to craft the report. Beijing has limited independent access to information on Covid-19’s origin, much as it silenced scientists and journalists who raised doubts about the official story last year. The report’s publication was repeatedly delayed, as both sides negotiated a report that is more political than scientific.
The WHO team is also compromised by conflicts of interest. Zoologist Peter Daszak, the American on the team, has collaborated with the WIV for years and supported gain-of-function research. As early as February 2020 he helped coordinate a statement in the Lancet condemning “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.” Another team member, virologist Marion Koopmans, oversees an outfit in the Netherlands that has conducted gain-of-function research and could face serious repercussions if the pandemic started in a lab.
The Biden Administration hasn’t taken a definitive position on the lab-leak theory, but Covid-19 spokesman Anthony Fauci played down the idea last week. Dr. Fauci’s institute financed work at the WIV and has backed gain-of-function research. He’s the wrong man to reassure the public about lab research on coronaviruses.
Dr. Fauci was trying to rebut Robert Redfield, the former chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said last week that “I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory.” Dr. Redfield added that virus transfer to a lab worker is not unusual in such research.