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LILLEY: Emails show rejection of pure politics of Wuhan lab leak theory

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If you wanted to devise a way for doctors and scientists to undermine support for public health officials, I couldn’t have done a better job than they themselves.

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Turning around, playing politics and sometimes lying outright to the public is not a way to build a relationship of trust.

The latest example comes from emails showing top scientists discussing the lab leak theory on the origins of COVID but didn’t want it made public to appease China.

If you’ve heard of the Lab Leak Theory, there’s a good chance the news story you read, watched, or listened to called it a conspiracy theory. Anyone who suggests COVID-19 escaped from the Chinese Institute of Virology in Wuhan has spent the past two years being called a radical conspiracy theorist.

Yet in emails written in early February 2020, top public health experts in the US and UK discussed the lab leak theory as the most likely scenario for COVID-19 onset. .

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“I’m 7:30 or 6:40 a.m.,” Jeremy Farrar said on whether the virus came about through an accidental release or a natural event.

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Farrar is a medical researcher and former Oxford professor who will become one of the leaders of the UK Vaccine Task Force. The email was sent on February 2, 2020 to Dr. Francis Collins of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and CC’d to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s senior adviser on COVID-19.

Collins replies to the two men: “I think a natural origin is more likely. “

Several leading researchers in the two countries have discussed the idea that a lab leak was the most likely scenario of the origins of COVID while worrying about “international harmony” and the harm to “science. in China ”if this idea was discussed.

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In April 2020, Collins, Fauci, and others were dismissing the idea as a conspiracy theory.

Yet in the early days, before politics took control of all things COVID, scientists considered the leak theory to be the most credible.

“I really can’t think of a plausible natural scenario where you get bat virus or a virus very similar to nCoV where you insert exactly 4 amino acids 12 nucleotides which all have to be added at exactly the same time to get that function – that and you don’t change any other amino acids in S2? I just can’t seem to figure out how it’s done in nature, ”Farrar wrote to Collins and Fauci.

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Dr Andrew Rambaut, a professor at the University of Edinburgh, wrote to the group that the virus did not feel natural to them.

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“From an evolutionary (natural) point of view, the only thing here that seems unusual to me is the furin cleavage site. This strongly suggests to me that we are missing something important in the origin of the virus, ”wrote Rambaut.

They are not the first nor the last scientists to consider this concept.

The idea was first floated in an article by Botao Xiao, professor of biology at South China University of Technology, and Li Xiao, professor of chemistry at Wuhan University. In their preliminary article, the couple said, “The killer coronavirus likely originated from a laboratory in Wuhan. “

This is also something that has already happened.

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Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Theresa Tam told the House of Commons health committee in 2009 that SARS had escaped from a Chinese laboratory.

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“In Beijing, China, the SARS virus came from infected lab workers who infected family members,” Tam said.

If it happened with SARS, it could happen with SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19.

We shouldn’t let politics – whether concerns about Chinese sensitivities or concerns about validating claims by Trump supporters – stop us from following the evidence. Unfortunately, this has happened in the past two years.

Yet we now know that the best scientists were convinced the theory of lab leaks was true, until politics took hold. Now they wonder why the public asks them on other fronts.

blilley@postmedia.com

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