Washington Post: State Department cables warned of safety issues at Wuhan lab studying bat coronaviruses

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/14/state-department-cables-warned-safety-issues-wuhan-lab-studying-bat-coronaviruses/

State Department cables warned of safety issues at Wuhan lab studying bat coronaviruses

April 14, 2020

Two years before the novel coronavirus pandemic upended the world, U.S. Embassy officials visited a Chinese research facility in the city of Wuhan several times and sent two official warnings back to Washington about inadequate safety at the lab, which was conducting risky studies on coronaviruses from bats. The cables have fueled discussions inside the U.S. government about whether this or another Wuhan lab was the source of the virus — even though conclusive proof has yet to emerge.

In January 2018, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing took the unusual step of repeatedly sending U.S. science diplomats to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which had in 2015 become China’s first laboratory to achieve the highest level of international bioresearch safety (known as BSL-4). WIV issued a news release in English about the last of these visits, which occurred on March 27, 2018. The U.S. delegation was led by Jamison Fouss, the consul general in Wuhan, and Rick Switzer, the embassy’s counselor of environment, science, technology and health. Last week, WIV erased that statement from its website, though it remains archived on the Internet.

What the U.S. officials learned during their visits concerned them so much that they dispatched two diplomatic cables categorized as Sensitive But Unclassified back to Washington. The cables warned about safety and management weaknesses at the WIV lab and proposed more attention and help. The first cable, which I obtained, also warns that the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.

“During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” states the Jan. 19, 2018, cable, which was drafted by two officials from the embassy’s environment, science and health sections who met with the WIV scientists. (The State Department declined to comment on this and other details of the story.)

The Chinese researchers at WIV were receiving assistance from the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch and other U.S. organizations, but the Chinese requested additional help. The cables argued that the United States should give the Wuhan lab further support, mainly because its research on bat coronaviruses was important but also dangerous.

As the cable noted, the U.S. visitors met with Shi Zhengli, the head of the research project, who had been publishing studies related to bat coronaviruses for many years. In November 2017, just before the U.S. officials’ visit,Shi’s team had published research showing that horseshoe bats they had collected from a cave in Yunnan province were very likely from the same bat population that spawned the SARS coronavirus in 2003.

“Most importantly,” the cable states, “the researchers also showed that various SARS-like coronaviruses can interact with ACE2, the human receptor identified for SARS-coronavirus. This finding strongly suggests that SARS-like coronaviruses from bats can be transmitted to humans to cause SARS-like diseases. From a public health perspective, this makes the continued surveillance of SARS-like coronaviruses in bats and study of the animal-human interface critical to future emerging coronavirus outbreak prediction and prevention.”

The research was designed to prevent the next SARS-like pandemic by anticipating how it might emerge. But even in 2015, other scientists questioned whether Shi’s team was taking unnecessary risks. In October 2014, the U.S. government had imposed a moratorium on funding of any research that makes a virus more deadly or contagious, known as “gain-of-function” experiments.

As many have pointed out, there is no evidence that the virus now plaguing the world was engineered; scientists largely agree it came from animals. But that is not the same as saying it didn’t come from the lab, which spent years testing bat coronaviruses in animals, said Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley.

“The cable tells us that there have long been concerns about the possibility of the threat to public health that came from this lab’s research, if it was not being adequately conducted and protected,” he said.

There are similar concerns about the nearby Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention lab, which operates at biosecurity level 2, a level significantly less secure than the level-4 standard claimed by the Wuhan Insititute of Virology lab, Xiao said. That’s important because the Chinese government still refuses to answer basic questions about the origin of the novel coronavirus while suppressing any attempts to examine whether either lab was involved.

Sources familiar with the cables said they were meant to sound an alarm about the grave safety concerns at the WIV lab, especially regarding its work with bat coronaviruses. The embassy officials were calling for more U.S. attention to this lab and more support for it, to help it fix its problems.

“The cable was a warning shot,” one U.S. official said. “They were begging people to pay attention to what was going on.”

No extra assistance to the labs was provided by the U.S. government in response to these cables. The cables began to circulate again inside the administration over the past two months as officials debated whether the lab could be the origin of the pandemic and what the implications would be for the U.S. pandemic response and relations with China.

Inside the Trump administration, many national security officials have long suspected either the WIV or the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention lab was the source of the novel coronavirus outbreak. According to the New York Times, the intelligence community has provided no evidence to confirm this. But one senior administration official told me that the cables provide one more piece of evidence to support the possibility that the pandemic is the result of a lab accident in Wuhan.

“The idea that it was just a totally natural occurrence is circumstantial. The evidence it leaked from the lab is circumstantial. Right now, the ledger on the side of it leaking from the lab is packed with bullet points and there’s almost nothing on the other side,” the official said.

As my colleague David Ignatius noted, the Chinese government’s original story — that the virus emerged from a seafood market in Wuhan — is shaky. Research by Chinese experts published in the Lancet in January showed the first known patient, identified on Dec. 1, had no connection to the market, nor did more than one-third of the cases in the first large cluster. Also, the market didn’t sell bats.

Shi and other WIV researchers have categorically denied this lab was the origin for the novel coronavirus. On Feb. 3, her team was the first to publicly report the virus known as 2019-nCoV was a bat-derived coronavirus.

The Chinese government, meanwhile, has put a total lockdown on information related to the virus origins. Beijing has yet to provide U.S. experts with samples of the novel coronavirus collected from the earliest cases. The Shanghai lab that published the novel coronavirus genome on Jan. 11 was quickly shut down by authorities for “rectification.” Several of the doctors and journalists who reported on the spread early on have disappeared.

On Feb. 14, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a new biosecurity law to be accelerated. On Wednesday, CNN reported the Chinese government has placed severe restrictions requiring approval before any research institution publishes anything on the origin of the novel coronavirus.

The origin story is not just about blame. It’s crucial to understanding how the novel coronavirus pandemic started because that informs how to prevent the next one. The Chinese government must be transparent and answer the questions about the Wuhan labs because they are vital to our scientific understanding of the virus, said Xiao.

We don’t know whether the novel coronavirus originated in the Wuhan lab, but the cable pointed to the danger there and increases the impetus to find out, he said.

“I don’t think it’s a conspiracy theory. I think it’s a legitimate question that needs to be investigated and answered,” he said. “To understand exactly how this originated is critical knowledge for preventing this from happening in the future.”

April 15, 2020. Tags: , , , , , . COVID-19, Health care. Leave a comment.

The Washington Post acknowledges: 1) It’s possible that the COVID-19 virus was released from a Chinese research lab that was conducting experiments on bats and coronavirus;  2) The Wuhan seafood market did not sell bats;  3) The research lab was less than 300 yards from the seafood market.

By Daniel Alman (aka Dan from Squirrel Hill)

April 4, 2020

The Washington Post has just acknowledged the following three things:

1) It’s possible that the COVID-19 virus was released from a Chinese research lab that was conducting experiments on bats and coronavirus.

2) The Wuhan seafood market that had originally been blamed for the outbreak did not sell bats.

3) The research lab was less than 300 yards from the seafood market.

Here is the relevant text from the Washington Post article:

How did covid-19 begin? Its initial origin story is shaky.

… scientists don’t rule out that an accident at a research laboratory in Wuhan might have spread a deadly bat virus that had been collected for scientific study…

… the initial “origin story” — that the virus was spread by people who ate contaminated animals at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan — is shaky…

… bats weren’t sold at the seafood market…

There’s a competing theory — of an accidental lab release of bat coronavirus — that scientists have been puzzling about for weeks. Less than 300 yards from the seafood market is the Wuhan branch of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers from that facility and the nearby Wuhan Institute of Virology have posted articles about collecting bat coronaviruses from around China, for study to prevent future illness. Did one of those samples leak, or was hazardous waste deposited in a place where it could spread?

Richard Ebright, a Rutgers microbiologist and biosafety expert, told me… that it “also could have occurred as a laboratory accident, with, for example, an accidental infection of a laboratory worker.” He noted that bat coronaviruses were studied in Wuhan at Biosafety Level 2, “which provides only minimal protection,” compared with the top BSL-4.

Ebright described a December video from the Wuhan CDC that shows staffers “collecting bat coronaviruses with inadequate [personal protective equipment] and unsafe operational practices.” Separately, I reviewed two Chinese articles, from 2017 and 2019, describing the heroics of Wuhan CDC researcher Tian Junhua, who while capturing bats in a cave “forgot to take protective measures” so that “bat urine dripped from the top of his head like raindrops.”

And then there’s the Chinese study that was curiously withdrawn. In February, a site called ResearchGate published a brief article by Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao from Guangzhou’s South China University of Technology. “In addition to origins of natural recombination and intermediate host, the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan…

Up until just now, all of this information was considered by the mainstream media to be a conspiracy theory that had no merit. But now even the Washington Post is taking it seriously. Better late than never, I guess.

Note from Daniel Alman: If you like this blog post that I wrote, you can buy my books from amazon, and/or donate to me via PayPal, using the links below:

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April 4, 2020. Tags: , , , , , . COVID-19, Health care. Leave a comment.

A scientific paper claims that humans acquired COVID-19 from a Chinese research lab, and not a food market. But instead of having the paper peer reviewed, they are trying to suppress it.

By Daniel Alman (aka Dan from Squirrel Hill)

April 3, 2020

One of the great things about science is the peer review process. When one group of scientists comes to a conclusion, other groups of scientists are allowed to peer review the work of the original group, to try to determine whether or not the original research has merit.

This link, which no longer works, used to show a scientific paper: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339070128_The_possible_origins_of_2019-nCoV_coronavirus

Fortunately, the internet archive still has the paper at this link: https://web.archive.org/web/20200214144447/https:/www.researchgate.net/publication/339070128_The_possible_origins_of_2019-nCoV_coronavirus

The paper is titled, “The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus.”

The paper’s lead author is Botao Xiao, from the South China University of Technology.

The paper’s publication month is February 2020.

The paper states:

“An article published on The Lancet reported that 27 of 41 infected patients were found to have contact with the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan. We noted two laboratories conducting research on bat coronavirus in Wuhan, one of which was only 280 meters from the seafood market. We briefly examined the histories of the laboratories and proposed that the coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory…”

“… The bats carrying CoV ZC45 were originally found in Yunnan or Zhejiang province, both of which were more than 900 kilometers away from the seafood market. Bats were normally found to live in caves and trees. But the seafood market is in a densely-populated district of Wuhan, a metropolitan of ~15 million people. The probability was very low for the bats to fly to the market. According to municipal reports and the testimonies of 31 residents and 28 visitors, the bat was never a food source in the city, and no bat was traded in the market.”

This paper has not been peer reviewed. I hope it will be.

If the statistics cited in the paper are true, then which of these two scenarios is more likely:

a) Humans contracted COVID-19 from a food market that is more than 900,000 meters away from the wild population of this bat species

or

b) Humans contracted COVID-19 from a lab that was doing research on bats and on coronavirus, and the lab is located only 280 meters from this food market

I’m curious to read of any peer reviews that get published.

And I’m curious to know why no peer reviews have been published so far.

And I’m also curious to know why the original link no longer works.

Note from Daniel Alman: If you like this blog post that I wrote, you can buy my books from amazon, and/or donate to me via PayPal, using the links below:

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April 3, 2020. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Animals, COVID-19, Health care, Science. 3 comments.

YouTuber laowhy86 claims that a Chinese science lab that was doing research on bats is located less than 1 km from the Chinese food market where the COVID-19 virus had allegedly originated

I don’t think this is an April Fool’s joke. If it is, then shame on me for thinking that it’s not.

I don’t know if this is true or not, but YouTuber laowhy86 claims that a Chinese science laboratory that was doing research on bats is located less than one kilometer from the Chinese food market where the COVID-19 virus had allegedly originated.

laowhy86 also says that lab workers came in contact with blood and other fluid from the bats, and that one of these lab workers has “disappeared.” No one know where this lab worker is. And she is no longer listed on the lab’s website, even though other former employees are still listed on their website.

I’m not saying that any of this is true, but I’m not saying that any of it is false either.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpQFCcSI0pU

 

April 1, 2020. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , . COVID-19, Health care. Leave a comment.

Shaggy from Scooby-Doo discovers the real source of COVID-19

This video is not some kind of fan edit. It’s actually the original video and original audio from when Batman and Robin appeared on the TV show The New Scooby-Doo Movies in the 1970s. Batman and Robin actually appeared on more than one episode of the series. This particular episode is officially titled, “The Dynamic Scooby-Doo Affair,” and it was originally broadcast on September 16, 1972.

Here’s a transcript of the scene in question:

Shaggy: Uh, Batman, like, when we get to the batcave, could I get a little snack?

Batman: Yes, Shaggy. We’ll all have a snack. Bat milk and cookies for everyone.

Shaggy: Bat milk?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHzs9tucRA4

 

March 26, 2020. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , . COVID-19, Television. Leave a comment.