by Peter Franklin
Friday, 28
October 2022
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13:00

The Covid question that won’t go away

A new Senate report casts doubt on the virus's origin
by Peter Franklin
Credit: Getty

While the fully-vaxxed nations of the West have decided to get on with life, China still lives under Xi Jinping’s draconian zero-Covid policy. 

The latest Chinese city to go back into lockdown is Wuhan, especially noteworthy since this is where the pandemic started, likely around this time of year, in 2019.


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But how did it start? Three years on we still don’t have a definitive answer, but the question won’t go away. Yesterday, a US Senate report was published addressing the issue. Though it doesn’t come to a final verdict, it was clearly written to cast doubt on the idea that the virus had a purely natural origin. 

Indeed, the report states that, on the evidence available, “it appears reasonable to conclude that the Covid-19 pandemic was, more likely than not, the result of a research-related incident.” The authors hedge their bets, but not by much: “New information, made publicly available and independently verifiable, could change this assessment. However, the hypothesis of a natural zoonotic origin no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt, or the presumption of accuracy.” 

While we’re on the subject of accuracy, it should be made clear that this particular Senate report is the work of the “Minority Oversight Staff” of the “Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labour and Pensions”. In other words, it is a Republican report. 

This partisan aspect may explain why coverage in the media hasn’t been universal. For instance, it’s been written-up by the Daily Mail, (“bombshell Senate report”), but not — as yet — by the BBC. Meanwhile the New York Times coverage is distinctly sceptical in tone: “in relying largely on existing public evidence, rather than new or classified information, the report came as something of a letdown even to those who supported its conclusions.”

Of course, there’s a reason why new information is so hard to come by: the Chinese authorities have suppressed it. In his forward to the report, Senator Richard Burr notes the “lack of transparency and collaboration from government and public health officials in the People’s Republic of China.”

However, China’s control of the evidence on the ground (and in the lab) is precisely why the natural origin hypothesis is now so widely doubted. Not only are the Chinese authorities in a position to cover up evidence that might support the lab-leak hypothesis; they also have the means and motive to provide proof (if it exists) for the official explanation. And yet they haven’t. 

Three years on from the start of the pandemic, it is this continued absence that is the most important fact available to us. As the Senate report sets out on pages 11 and 12, no intermediate host species has been found — which, by definition, would be required for a natural zoonotic origin. Further, there’s still no evidence of Covid having entered the human population anywhere except Wuhan — which just happens to be a global centre for research into respiratory viruses. 

The people trying to dismiss the Senate report are missing another point, too: it is a clear signal that the Republicans aren’t going to let this lie. And that matters, because the party could take control of Congress in the upcoming mid-term elections and then the White House in 2024.

As the report reminds us, “over one million Americans have died from COVID-19 and tens of millions have died from this virus worldwide.” Those facts make this an awfully big issue for a blame-game between superpowers. 

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chris Barton
chris Barton
1 month ago

We all know it came from the Lab in Wuhan. Bats and Wet market fairy tales is just an attempt by the CCP and its paid shills in the west to avoid the blame.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

No. The idea that it originated in a US lab and/or was imported to China on frozen food are fairy tales. The idea of a zoonotic origin is highly likely (many think: the most likely) though a Wuhan lab origin is also quite plausible.

Unfortunately the fact that China is refusing access to the necessary data does not prove it had a lab origin. China is quite capable of keeping things secret just to avoid admitting that it arose in China at all, or that there might have been errors in the original handling. Or to prevent any kind of conclusion that they do not themselves control.

Jim R
Jim R
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The fact that Fauci and Daszak and company have been exposed for orchestrating a deliberate campaign to dismiss the lab leak theory (solely on the basis of their ‘authority’ and without any actual evidence) is more than a bit suspicious. If this were a murder investigation, their actions would be considered obstruction of justice, and they would become the prime suspects.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim R

Again, it proves that they had a reason to dislike the lab leak theory – not that the theory was true. Danszak, as far as I understand, had been involved in research cooperation with Wuhan, and I think also gain-of-function research. Danszak would not like it that his research was mentioned as a probable cause of the pandemic, and Fauci might well want to avoid the important work of fighting the pandemic getting mired into unsupported and inflammatory talk about ‘bio-weapons’ and ‘The Wuhan virus’.

If it was all over the internet that I had been part of the Rwandan genocide, I might well try to orchestrate a campaign to get that theory dismissed. That would not be proof that I was actually guilty.

Last edited 1 month ago by Rasmus Fogh
Jim R
Jim R
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I didn’t say it was “proof”. I said it makes them the prime suspects. And to use your analogy – they were not simply trying to show they were not involved in a genocide, they were using their public offices to smear anyone who even attempted to point out the possibility, and declaring that there was no genocide, and all the poor Tutsi’s accidentally fell onto machetes. But hey, the camera loves Fauci , he just seems so confident. I can see why you don’t want to believe he’s a villain. And that’s precisely why he’s so dangerous.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim R

They were not saying that there was no pandemic, (anti-vaxxers did that, if anything), just that the culprit was not the Wuhan lab. And I find it very weird (and ‘motivated’) to argue that the fact that someone is working hard to claim he is innocent makes him more suspect. OK, their involvement may mean they are not neutral, and that lessens their credibility. Personally I still believe that the lab origin theory has around 15-25% probability, with a zoonotic origin accounting for the rest – and that is in part because people like Fauci (whose judgement I would normally trust) does have a motive to be biased. But on the available information ‘we’ do not ‘know’ that COVID came from the Wuhan Lab. ‘We’ are just jumping to conclusions.

Jim R
Jim R
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Wow, so you’ve never heard of “Consciousness of Guilt”? Its actually admissible evidence in a trial, and has been for hundreds of years, weird though you may find it. “Evidence of post-crime conduct that may in the context of a particular case evince a defendant’s consciousness of guilt of the offense with which the defendant is charged is admissible. A consciousness of guilt may, for example, be evinced by a false alibi or explanation for one’s actions, intimidation of a witness, destruction or concealment of evidence or flight.” (NY State Rule) And I never said we “know” Covid came from a lab – the only one who claimed definitive knowledge and ‘jumped to a conclusion’ was Fauci and his collaborators.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim R

Qed. Gold star for Jim.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ian Stewart
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim R

All that China’s actions prove is that they are afraid that an investigation might find something that put China in a bad light, or could be used by their enemies for that purpose. If the inquiry was inconclusive – or even decided that a zoonotic origin was most likely – it could still uncover evidence of sloppy lab practices, bad handling of biorisks, supression of warnings, etc. And China would not accept that either.

Last edited 1 month ago by Rasmus Fogh
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Nah Rasmus, Jim R is spot on. Shakespeare was right, ‘the lady doth protest too much’.

Its like the mafia guys holding guns who point at the shotgun victims in front of them saying they maybe fell over.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ian Stewart
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

No, because the hypothesis that this disease came from a jungle animal is still inherently the most likely – whereas the idea that the shotgun victims ‘just fell over’ is preposterous.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I would suggest that after carefully reading the listed links, you might take a different perspective, or at least appreciate that there is a far more likely explanation than the wet market and zoonotic transmission.

Last edited 1 month ago by Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

You might care to read a recent reprint on the distribution of endonuclease cleavage sites within the SARS-CoV2 sequence (https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.10.18.512756v1), a Substack explaining the paper in layman’s terms (https://alexwasburne.substack.com/p/a-synthetic-origin-of-sars-cov-2), the accompanying twitter thread (https://twitter.com/WashburneAlex/status/1583145276151189504), the comments of Prof. Francois Balloux (Director of the UCL Genetics Institute) on twitter about it (https://twitter.com/BallouxFrancois/status/1583165259799412737), as well as a commentary on the dailysceptic (https://dailysceptic.org/2022/10/21/covid-19-virus-has-a-telltale-fingerprint-that-makes-it-highly-likely-to-have-come-from-a-lab-study-finds/). It would appear that the endonuclease fingerprint (independent of the business relating to the Furin cleavage site) suggests a very high likelihood that the virus may have originated as an infectious clone assembled in vitro (i.e. synthesized). The authors also note that “We find no evidence of SARS-CoV-2 being a bioweapon (on the contrary, this looks like an accident) or any gain of function work. We find evidence suggesting SARS-CoV-2 may have been synthesized in the lab with known methods, probably for normal pre-Covid research purposes.” Francois Balloux’s comment on the work was as follows: ““This is an important piece of work. To me, it looks solid both conceptually and methodologically. I was given advance warning and was able to replicate the key findings. To the best of my knowledge, I confirm the reported patterns are genuine.”

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Thanks for the heads-up, with all the detailed links. I saw that one, as discussed in The Economist – you’ll see my first reaction elsewhere on the page.

These links are quite convincing, and for now I’d move my estimates to at least 50% for the lab origin theory. The lab theory might well end up scoring higher than that, but first I would wait to hear what rebuttal the natural-origin people can come up with. The really convincing part is the paper on restriction enzymes, because it is clear, scientific evidence (not coincidences and evidence-by-cover-up) and it is presented in the way you would expect from a professional scientist who wants to find the truth, whatever it is. That in turn gives some credibility to the man’s scathing analysis of other people’s papers, and the aggressive (if evidenced) analysis of likely bias in his opponents.

For what it is worth, I stand by what I have been saying previously. Until now, the evidence accessible to newspaper readers like you and me did not justify taking a lab origin as the dominant theory. And the cause was not helped by people jumping to conclusions from coincidences (Wuhan, OK, but Event 201??), talking about bioweapons, using COVID as a handy excuse for China-bashing, and deciding that ‘somebody hiding something’ was strong evidence of how the virus arose. I think you have been guilty of several of those. Your methods are not a good way to get to the truth – but you might end up being proved right anyway in spite of it.

Last edited 1 month ago by Rasmus Fogh
Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Unlike you I’m not a newspaper reader. I actually look at the original literature and know the field. It’s my day job!

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Maybe – but you do not talk like it.

Washburne does. You read his arguments, and they are convincing. Elaine Gledys-Leaper does, too. You read their references, you see the way they talk, and you believe that (whatever their background) they understand what they are talking about, and that they are trying to apply a dispassionate judgement. Their authority comes from the way they write. You, on the other hand, have a tendency to browbeat instead of arguing, and to demand respect for your posts based on your MD, your PhD, and your IQ, instead of your arguments.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Sorry but that’s nonsense. As for Elaine, most of what she has said, no matter how well written, is simply bogus – and she simply regurgitates the narrativeTM, without actually critically looking at the arguments and the data.
And as for Washburne, the findings are very straightforward. Namely that they found endonuclease sites evenly spaced throughout the SARS-CoV2 genome and the spacing is exactly the sort of length that one would use if one were to stitch together the entire sequence in the lab (something that is actually very straightforward to do these days). Washburne’s other argument is that while there are endonuclease sites in all the other corona viruses they are not evenly spaced but random.
Incidentally, since you read the Economist article, you should have seen how lame the counter arguments were that they lifted off twitter. e.g. corona viruses have endonuclease sites from a recent postdoc at Johns Hopkins – duh; that another type of restriction site would have been used – exactly why is beyond me; that they would have removed the restriction sites after stitching things together – again why would you do that unless you were synthesizing the viral sequence for nefarious purposes.

Last edited 1 month ago by Johann Strauss
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Ahhhhh.
I did read and understand the links you sent me, and found them very convincing. I already said so once, didn’t you read my post? For the rest, I leave it to the spectators whether your post is best described as convincing argumentation – or as browbeating.

Colin K
Colin K
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

The fact there was one of the few biosfatey level 3 labs right next to where the outbreak supposedly originated seems a little more than coincidental.
Other coincidences:
Event 201 merely months before the scamdemic simulated something so similar.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-_FAjNSd58
Attractive chinese girls with hug me I am chineese not a virus:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEjDMRENuy4
I am not covinced it wasn’t deliberate, and the Wuhan lab being next to the think was actually a cover for this.
The natural origin people really do seem to be clutching at straws at this stage. But don’t worry about crazy conspiracy theorist’s like me who just happen to notice coincidences and point them out.

chris Barton
chris Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Colin K

Colin, so many things during these past 2 and a half years that were once considered beyond the pale and only spoken by tin foil hat wearers (I was called that and worse) have turned out to be correct after all the shouting was over. Biggest examples being V ax passports, mandatory vaccination, the stab having some truly horrible side effects, the stab not preventing transmission, the disgusting return of segregation (Germany and Austria)

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago

Let us not forget that the Chinese engaged in unapologetic economic warfare against Australia just because they had the audacity to call for an independent investigation into the origins of the virus. CCP behavior has been suspicious from the very start, when they tried so hard to cover up the virus entirely, to the point of having scientists who spoke out jailed. They only changed their stance and informed the public later, perhaps when they realized that covering it up was impossible. They then landed on the wet market theory and the world went along with it. My best guess as to why is that as of then, and still today, the world economy isn’t prepared to go full on Cold War and cut China off. Sanctioning China as we did Russia would be an absolute nightmare scenario from an economic standpoint. I get that from a government standpoint, but what’s more disturbing to me is how quickly our media fell in line with this story and how few of them questioned the coincidence. That pretty much everybody dismissed the lab leak theory and toed the government line without a second thought does not speak well of an independent media.

Last edited 1 month ago by Steve Jolly
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

China did that indeed. But I would say they are perfectly capable of pressuring anybody who even hints anything unfavourable about China, whether it is true or not. Their behaviour does not prove that the virus came from a lab, only that the CCP is the CCP..

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Yes, the Chinese are the Chinese. But what galls me are the Westerners who tout the Chinese party line. Frances Collins, Tony Fauci, Peter Daszak, Kristian Andersen, Michael Worobey, Angela Rasmussen, and Carl Zimmer have used their power and strong voices to insist that a lab leak could not have occurred. They are wrong, and deadly wrong.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

Exactly. I expect bad behavior from the CCP, only idiots and poor globalists in denial that their policies have failed utterly and most people hate them expect anything but bad behavior. I expected better from our media and was rudely disappointed, but this does explain why I follow an obscure British website for most of my news.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Rather ironic too that it was people in Taiwan who spotted it first and alerted the world, which then chose to believe the Chinese.

Jim R
Jim R
1 month ago

There’s a big pile of dead bodies – so who dunnit? Its a Rorschach test for our times. Who you blame is simply a reflection of who you are. If you are on the left (and for many on the right), you blame the unmasked, unvaccinated deplorables who didn’t do what they were told by the experts. The world would be a better place if people would just DO AS THEY ARE TOLD. If you are naturally skeptical of authority, you blame the ‘experts’ and authorities themselves, first for creating it through immoral and incompetent research methods, and then shamelessly using the pandemic to usurp more control over people. Power corrupts. It always has, it always will.

Last edited 1 month ago by Jim R
Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
1 month ago

We don’t know that the coronavirus came from a lab in Wuhan, but all the evidence points that way. It’s not a scientific question, though science can give us some information. It’s like a criminal investigation, where the goal is not necessarily to know but instead to weigh the evidence and determine what is most likely.
Here the pandemic arose in a city where there was only minimal contact with possibly infected animals in a wet market. But the city was the site of the only research lab in the world that collected, held and experimented with coronaviruses of exactly the same type as SARS-CoV-2. That’s circumstantial evidence, but very strong evidence.
Given that connection, one can fairly presume a lab leak. That is a rebuttable presumption, but the Chinese government (who has the information that would confirm or rebut it) denies it without offering any proof.
It’s like a murder case where a wife is murdered and her estranged husband has no alibi and refuses to say where he was at the time of the murder. There are no other suspects or people with a motive. Sure, a stranger could have done it but what are the chances of that?

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

The inherently most likely cause is still zoonotic; that has happened quite a few times with other diseases. Unlike your murder cases , where the inherently most likely suspect is the ex-husband). Also, in a murder case, there is a strong presumption that the suspect would give an alibi if he could rather than guarantee suspicion and risk conviction. With China it is quite likely that they would refuse to give any evidence regardless. They do not want to admit even the obvious fact that the epidemic arose in China, let alone admit any failings in how they handed biosecurity or emerging epidemics. And they are allergic to criticism, any criticism, whether justified or not. They are unlikely to cooperate in an investigation that might find things to criticise about Chinese society. And, anyway, they probably do not know what caused the epidemic, any more than anyone else does. If there is even a small chance that it could have come from that lab, would they accept an investigation that might find it out? Or trust that their western enemies would not use whatever was found to smear them?

That leaves us with the scientific evidence, where most knowledgable scientists seem to go for the zoonotic explanation. It is not enough to remove the lab theory from consideration, but it is enough we cannot assume it is true.

Last edited 1 month ago by Rasmus Fogh
Mark Cook
Mark Cook
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

There is an unexplained gap of about 40 years in the mutation of the virus , and a Furian cleave. No Zoonotic sample has been found to account for the gap ?

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Cook

I started out believing the original scientific line that this was quite unlikely to be a lab origin. But the paper in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists changed my mind The lab origin might be odds against, but remained quite plausible (I give it something like one in four, or one in six, these days). The question is still very controversial, with suggestive arguments on both sides, and I do not know enough to read the literature and form my own opinion.

As it happens, this week’s Economist discussed a recent preprint that argues for a lab origin – something about an unusual and non-random distribution of restriction enzyme sites in the virus genome. There seems to be a vivid discussion on how likely it is that a lab would make a genome like this v. how likely this is to arise by chance in a coronavirus. The Journal’s comment, basically, is that deciding that the virus definitely came from a lab would have quite grave political and scientific consequences, and that it needs more than a contested (if interesting) study to justify that conclusion. I’d agree with that.

Neil Cheshire
Neil Cheshire
1 month ago

Why is China is still enforcing a zero covid lockdown policy despite adverse social and economic consequences?. Perhaps they know something about the virus we do not.

Last edited 1 month ago by Neil Cheshire
Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
1 month ago

What is missing from this article is any reference to the co-operation in research between China and the US stretching back 20 years, including the patents that were applied for and the response of US researchers to the US ban on gain of function research.