A cluster of researchers from China’s secretive Wuhan laboratories fell sick with ‘COVID-like’ symptoms at least six weeks before the Beijing government admitted an outbreak of a new virus in their city, according to the leading US investigator looking into the start of the pandemic.
David Asher, who led State Department inquiries into COVID-19’s origins, told The Mail on Sunday that three scientists are believed to have become ill with the mysterious respiratory condition in the second week of November, 2019.
‘There are suspicions – for good reasons – of an initial cluster tied to Wuhan Institute of Virology in November and that people started to be hospitalised,’ he said.
‘Hard to conclude definitely it was COVID but it seems highly likely.’
According to ‘credible’ information from a well-connected foreign government, the wife of one researcher died later that month, Asher added.
This is a clear sign of human transmission – yet Beijing did not confirm this crucial fact to the World Health Organisation until mid-January last year, by which time the coronavirus had spread across China and then started seeping around the planet.
‘By December, if not sooner, the Chinese had to know that they had a problem on their hands with a mysterious coronavirus spreading in Wuhan,’ said Asher, adding that there could also have been unidentified earlier clusters.
Does this map reveal a tantalising new clue?
Could this map from a study published in the journal Nature offer an insight into Covid’s origins?
It illustrates the result of tests on almost 10 million Wuhan residents above the age of six last May – a month after lockdown was lifted in the city – and shows the number of detected asymptomatic cases.
Areas with the highest levels are in red, unsurprisingly clustered mainly in the populous city centre district beside the Yangtze river, with lower rates in orange and yellow on the opposite bank that is home to the animal market that was originally the centre of suspicion over the disease’s outbreak.
Could this map from a study published in the journal Nature offer an insight into COVID’s origins?
However, the map, from a paper by Chinese and British scientists, shows one isolated pocket in red with at least three times the infection levels of surrounding Jiangxia Province.
It is by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a lab conducting research into coronaviruses.
A vaccine expert who suspects a lab leak said it may be ‘a beautiful encapsulation of what everyone is surmising as the origin’.
But others advise caution, suggesting that a major hospital nearby may also be showing high infection levels.
He said that as world experts on coronaviruses, the Chinese ‘must have known’ this was not normal flu.
‘If they had not covered up human-to-human transmission, many millions of people around the world would not have died,’ he added.
Asher, who served under Democrat and Republican presidents, has previously led US investigations into biological, chemical and nuclear proliferation in Iran, North Korea and Pakistan, as well as tracking the finances of Islamic State and drug cartel chiefs.
He added: ‘If the Chinese do not come forward with the truth, or we do not sort out this disaster, it is one of the greatest failures in the history of human society.
‘They were engaged in a shocking range of dangerous experiments into highly pathogenic, man-made versions of COVID-like viruses in Wuhan.’
‘A lab leak is not 100 per cent certain but it seems at this stage the only logical source of origin.’
‘If there was an accident, it doesn’t mean you end relations with China but we must understand the nature of their society that let this happen, and impose new controls on bio-technology since we have seen how dangerous it can be to the world.’
Asher’s comments fuel fears that China may be covering up a lab accident, amid growing calls for this suggestion to be taken seriously.
Initially, many top scientists dismissed the idea as a ‘conspiracy theory,’ pointing to some kind of natural transmission from animals.
But Robert Redfield, a virologist and director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention until earlier this year, tells a 60 Minutes documentary to be broadcast in the US tonight he believes the most likely origin ‘was from a laboratory escape’ in autumn 2019.
‘It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker,’ he said.
He believes suggestions of natural transmission for such a well-adapted disease make little biological sense.
‘I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human and at that moment in time the virus … became one of the most infectious viruses we know for human-to-human transmission.’
Wuhan is home to several important labs, including China’s only research centre with top-level biosecurity, where experts carried out risky experiments on bat coronaviruses that critics long feared might spark a pandemic.
Asher also pointed to work at the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, an adjacent lab run jointly by Wuhan Institute of Virology with Sinopharm, a state-owned firm thought to have been investigating a vaccine to combat all coronaviruses.
Intriguingly, Sinopharm chief executive Yu Qingming disclosed in an interview how China approved ‘conditional sales’ of his firm’s vaccine on February 25 last year, with senior managers given the jab in March.
Asher’s intervention follows a US State Department bulletin earlier this year that said in autumn 2019 ‘several’ Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers had ‘symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses’.
The document also accused the centre of carrying out ‘secret military activity’ and clandestine research, including animal experiments, on behalf of the People’s Liberation Army ‘since at least 2017’.
Source: Ian Birrell – DAILY MAIL
US ‘let China eavesdrop on call to Raab’
- Glen Owen, Political Editor for the Mail on Sunday
US officials deliberately held a phone call with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab over an insecure line to allow the Chinese government to eavesdrop on their discussions about the origins of the coronavirus, Washington sources have told The Mail on Sunday.
Shortly before leaving office with President Donald Trump in January, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used the call to inform Mr Raab of his plan to point the finger at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, suggesting the pandemic arose following a leak from a laboratory.
A Washington source said Mr Raab had been ‘very supportive’ during the phone call, which also included the foreign ministers of Australia, Canada and New Zealand – the intelligence sharing group of nations known as Five Eyes – in late December.
The source said: ‘We did it on an open phone to ensure the Chinese could hear it. We were sending a message – we wanted to tell the Chinese.’
‘They have been prevaricating from day one, refusing to give us or you Brits any information day after day.’
‘So the Secretary of State, based on the frustration between the State Department and our closest allies by the end of the year, wanted to send a clear message.’
However, a UK Government source said Mr Raab had not endorsed Mr Pompeo’s actions, and merely ‘listened as Pompeo set out what he was planning to do’.
Two weeks later, Mr Pompeo announced that US intelligence agencies had identified workers at the WIV who had fallen ill with COVID-like symptoms in autumn 2019, weeks before the alarm was raised.