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Laboratory leak is the "most credible" source of the coronavirus outbreak, says a senior US government official


One of America's top government officials says the "most credible" theory about how the coronavirus came about is that it escaped from a laboratory in China.

Matthew Pottinger, the distinguished deputy national security adviser to President Donald Trump, told politicians around the world that even China's leaders are now openly admitting that their previous claims that the virus originated in a Wuhan market are false.

Mr Pottinger said the latest evidence points to the virus leaking from the top-secret Wuhan Institute of Virology, 11 miles from the market, saying, "There's growing evidence that the lab is probably the most credible source of the Virus is. & # 39;

Matthew Pottinger, the esteemed deputy national security advisor to President Donald Trump, says the "most credible" theory about the origin of the coronavirus is that it escaped the top-secret Wuhan Institute of Virology in China

Claiming the pathogen may have escaped through a "leak or accident," he added, "Even the Beijing establishment numbers openly denied the wet market story."

The comments, made last week during a Zoom conference with MPs on China, came from a World Health Organization team of experts preparing to fly to Wuhan to investigate how the pandemic began.

Critics fear that the probe will be a whitewash given China's influence on WHO.

"MPs around the world are playing a moral role in exposing the WHO investigation as a Potemkin exercise," Pottinger told MPs regarding the fake villages established in the Crimea in the 18th century around the visiting Russian empress to convince Catherine the Great that the region was in good health.

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory party leader who attended the meeting, said Mr Pottinger's comments "stiffened" the US position on the theory that the virus came from a leak in the laboratory, amid of reports that Americans are speaking to a whistleblower from the Wuhan Institute.

Mr Pottinger (left) told politicians from around the world that even China's leaders are now openly admitting that their previous claims that the virus originated in a Wuhan market are false.

Mr Pottinger (left) told politicians from around the world that even China's leaders are now openly admitting that their previous claims that the virus originated in a Wuhan market are false.

"I was told that the US has an ex-scientist from the laboratory in America right now," he said. “I heard that a few weeks ago.

"I was led to believe that this would cement their position regarding where this outbreak began."

He added that Beijing's refusal to allow journalists to visit the lab only heightened suspicions that the pandemic was "ground zero".

"The truth is that there are people who have been in these labs and claim they are," he said.

“We don't know what they were doing in this laboratory.

“Maybe they played around with bat coronavirus and looked at them, and they made a mistake. I have spoken to various people who believe this is the case. & # 39;

Claiming the pathogen may have escaped through a "leak or accident," he added, "Even the Beijing establishment numbers openly denied the wet market story." In the picture: The Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli, who was referred to as "Batwoman", with a colleague in the Wuhan laboratory

Claiming the pathogen may have escaped through a "leak or accident," he added, "Even the Beijing establishment numbers openly denied the wet market story." In the picture: The Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli, who was referred to as "Batwoman", with a colleague in the Wuhan laboratory

Sam Armstrong, communications director for the Henry Jackson Society's foreign policy think tank, said: "With such a senior and respected intelligence official to back this claim, it is time the UK government looked for both answers and compensation for Covid19. & # 39;

Fluent in Mandarin, Mr. Pottinger previously worked as a journalist for Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, including seven years as a China correspondent.

He became a U.S. Marine in 2005 and served as a military intelligence officer before being asked to join the U.S. National Security Council in 2017. He became director of Asia before assuming his current role.

His older brother Paul is a virologist at the University of Washington.

President Trump last year accused the WHO of being a "puppet of China" and withdrew funding.

The WHO team's visit to Wuhan is already controversial after it released a mandate stating that the Wuhan Institute – the only laboratory in China with the highest international biosecurity rating – is a possible source of Covid-19 is not examined.

The world needs to investigate all the growing evidence leaked Covid from a Wuhan laboratory, writes IAN BIRRELL

By Ian Birrell for the Sunday Mail

It's been a year since the world learned of a deadly new respiratory disease in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Little is known, however, about how and why the virus spread with such devastating consequences.

It can almost certainly be traced back to bats. However, we do not know how this pathogen, which has developed an extraordinary ability to infect and has so damaged various body organs, made the leap into humans.

A World Health Organization investigation into the origins of the coronavirus is finally underway, but it has been accused of meekly standing on China's agenda by recruiting patsy scientists and relying on Beijing's dubious data.

Now experts around the world are getting louder and louder that no stone should be left unturned in this investigation – and that it must include a key element of a hunt that has all the hallmarks of a thriller novel.

It's been a year since the world learned of a deadly new respiratory disease in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, writes Ian Birrell. Pictured: the Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli, who was referred to as "Batwoman" at the Wuhan Institute of Virology

It's been a year since the world learned of a deadly new respiratory disease in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, writes Ian Birrell. Pictured: the Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli, who was referred to as "Batwoman" at the Wuhan Institute of Virology

It centers around a bat-filled cave, a series of mysterious deaths, some brilliant scientists conducting futuristic experiments in a secret laboratory – and a cover-up of epic proportions that, if proven, will have enormous consequences for the Chinese Communist Party and China would the global practice of science.

What exactly is this theory about the origins of this pandemic?

It needs to be made clear that this is only a theory, but based on crumbs of evidence worked out by some brave scientists and some online detectives.

New diseases have emerged throughout human history. Most experts believe that Covid is a "zoonotic" disease that is transmitted naturally from animals to humans.

They believe it was most likely "amplified" by an intermediate species – similar to how the Chinese consumption of civets sparked the 2002 Sars epidemic.

At the same time, Beijing's actions from the start – covering up the outbreak, blaming a wildlife market it has since admitted wasn't to blame, barring outside investigators, burying data and silencing its own experts – have fueled suspicion.

Last week, leaked documents revealed how, on orders from President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government tightly controls all research into the origins of Covid and promotes marginal theories suggesting it came from outside of China.

And it's an unpleasant coincidence that Wuhan – a city full of bustling shops, overcrowded restaurants, and many unmasked people on the streets celebrating New Years – is home to the world's leading coronavirus research unit, as well as ground zero for a strange new one Variety.

The clues begin with an abandoned copper mine in Mojiang, a hilly region in Yunnan, southern China, where bats live in a network of underground caves, cracks and crevices.

Two weeks ago, a BBC reporter was prevented from reaching this remote location after being chased for miles by police on bumpy roads, then blocked by a truck and confronted by men at roadblocks who said it was their job to help him to stop.

Days after three Chinese miners who cleaned up bat droppings in caves died, Zhengli went to investigate

Days after three Chinese miners who cleaned up bat droppings in caves died, Zhengli went to investigate

Last month, a team of US journalists was also followed by plainclothes officers who denied them entry.

A research team recently managed to take some samples from the mine, but they are believed to have been confiscated.

The reason for this secrecy dates back to late April 2012 when a 42-year-old man who was clearing bat droppings in these underground caves showed up at a nearby hospital with a bad cough, high fever and difficulty breathing.

Within a week, five colleagues had similar symptoms. Three later died, one after doctors struggled for more than 100 days to save his life – but the youngest two spent less than a week in the hospital and survived. Sound familiar?

We have since learned from a detailed master’s thesis that included medical reports and radiological examinations that these miners suffered viral pneumonia attributed to Sars-like coronaviruses derived from horseshoe bats.

A leading US health agency pointed out last year that they had "a disease remarkably similar to Covid-19".

No wonder a well-known vaccine scientist said to me, "This is as close to a smoking gun as it is."

Interestingly, these cases were also highlighted in a second paper three years later.

It was written by a student of Oxford-trained virologist Professor George Gao Fu, who is now the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and oversees its response to the pandemic.

The Chinese authorities must have known about the dead miners.

Still, they quickly tried to blame the Wuhan wildlife market as a source of Covids until they were challenged by reputable studies in this newspaper.

After the miners died, Shi Zhengli, a Wuhan-based virologist known as Batwoman, went to investigate for her expeditions to collect samples in such caves and a member of the team that traced the origins of Sars to bats.

"The mine shaft smelled like hell," she told Scientific American magazine, as her colleagues discovered new coronaviruses in samples of blood and feces from bats for a year.

The miners, she claimed, died of a fungal infection.

"The mine shaft smelled like hell," she told Scientific American magazine, as her colleagues discovered new coronaviruses in samples of blood and feces from bats for a year. The miners, she claimed, died of a fungal infection.

Another expert noted how the deceased miners were treated with antifungal drugs while the survivors were given other drugs.

"In addition to the fact that the cases were sars-like rather than fungal, this treatment history speaks against a fungus (a cause)," he said.

"It is very strange that Shi Zhengli should claim these cases are mushrooms."

Prof. Shi examined samples in her Wuhan laboratory, a few kilometers from the notorious market. Studies later found the virus in sewage, but it was not detected in animals.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology is the first laboratory in China with the world's highest bio-safety level.

It specializes in studying bat-borne viruses and is at the forefront of China's drive to assert itself in biotechnology.

Leaked diplomatic cables show that US officials who visited the lab two years ago warned of security vulnerabilities and the risks of a new Sars-like epidemic.

The lab's security chief also publicly admitted concerns about flawed security systems.

The institute has been conducting experiments with bat coronaviruses since 2015 – including research that can increase their virulence by combining snippets of different strains.

Some viruses have been injected into special "humanized" mice designed for use in laboratories with human genes, cells, or tissues in their bodies.

These controversial experiments artificially force viruses to evolve to improve our understanding of diseases and their communicability.

They help researchers develop new drugs and vaccines.

The Wuhan scientists worked with prominent Western experts and received funding from the National Institutes of Health, the main U.S. funding agency – though that relationship ended for security reasons after it was revealed by The Mail on Sunday.

Some scientists argue that this type of pathogen research is too risky as it could trigger a pandemic from a new disease.

As a result, there was a four-year moratorium on such US work under the Obama administration.

Other critics have warned that the Wuhan Institute is constructing "chimeric" coronaviruses – new hybrid microorganisms that show no signs of human manipulation.

The big question now is whether they took samples of the coronavirus that killed the Yunnan miners and created a new virus in their laboratory more than 1,000 miles away that somehow got into their own city.

Leaked diplomatic cables show that US officials who visited the lab two years ago warned of security vulnerabilities and the risks of a new Sars-like epidemic

Leaked diplomatic cables show that US officials who visited the lab two years ago warned of security vulnerabilities and the risks of a new Sars-like epidemic

As leading experts have suggested, creating chimeric viruses by combining properties from different samples would have been a logical step.

Many scientific breakthroughs have resulted from such speculative endeavors.

A medical professor suggested to me that the miners may have died after being exposed to very high doses of coronavirus while working in deep shafts filled with bats and their droppings.

However, the Wuhan scientists then struggled to prove causality in their laboratory because their samples were too weak to infect human cells.

& # 39; This would have prevented them from posting a key finding of a new Sars-like virus infecting people.

They may then have tried to modify the virus to better infect human cells in order to find the missing link. & # 39;

This is, it must be emphasized, unproven speculation.

And it's understandable why China wants to know as much as possible about bat viruses popping up in its country.

However, experts say there are many unanswered questions centered on Beijing's reluctance to clear the miners' cases, viruses, and samples that are kept in their laboratories.

The Wuhan Institute has even taken important databases offline.

The key to all of this is the enigmatic Batwoman Prof. Shi. First, she published a genetic sequence for Sars-Cov-2 – the strain of coronavirus that causes Covid-19 – which, despite careful analysis of other novel traits, ignored its most surprising property.

This is the "furin cleavage site," a mutation not found in similar types of coronavirus, and which allows their spike protein to bind so effectively to many human cells.

The lab's security chief also publicly admitted concerns about flawed security systems

The lab's security chief also publicly admitted concerns about flawed security systems

Last January, Prof. Shi and two colleagues published an article in Nature that revealed the existence of a virus called RaTG13, which was taken from a horseshoe bat and stored on its premises, the largest repository for bat coronavirus in Asia.

This paper, filed on the same day that China allowed human transmission, caused a stir in the scientific world for the existence of the closest known relative of Sars-Cov-2 with a genetic similarity to more than 96 percent revealed.

It was pointed out that such diseases occur naturally – although closely related, it would have taken RaTG13 several decades to develop into Sars-Cov-2 in the wild and was too distant to be manipulated in a laboratory to become.

Other experts wondered why there was so little information about this new strain. One reason soon became clear: the name was changed from that of another virus called Ra4991, which was identified in a previous article – but, unusually, not cited in the Nature article.

This obscured a direct connection to the dead miners, which was only confirmed when Nature requested an addendum to be published after complaints.

The Wuhan team also admitted it had eight other Sars virus from the Yunnan mine that were not disclosed.

Some scientists say these new details pose a lot of new problems – including a 20-point review posted on her blog by an Indian microbiologist named Monali Rahalkar.

However, many high profile experts still dismiss the idea of ​​a laboratory leak as a conspiracy theory.

However, David Relman, one of the world's foremost experts in the field, suggests that scientists could easily combine a "furin cleavage site" from one viral ancestor with the Sars-Cov-2 backbone of another.

"Alternatively, the full Sars-Cov-2 sequence could have been obtained from a bat sample and a viable virus extracted from a synthetic genome to study before that virus accidentally escaped," wrote Relman, professor of microbiology and immunology at the Stanford University Medical School, in a recent article.

The former US government biosecurity advisor told me he raised the issues out of frustration with scientists who seemed uncomfortable with the idea.

"This confusing story doesn't fit together – the possibility of a laboratory accident cannot be ruled out," he said.

There were also questions about the apparent disappearance of a young researcher who worked in the laboratory.

It has been suggested that she may have been involved in this pandemic, although this has been denied by Chinese authorities.

Even if the miners' connection were severed, it would not rule out the possibility of an accident causing this pandemic.

Alina Chan, a molecular biologist at the Broad Institute of MIT and at Harvard, said Wuhan scientists had shown in publications that they sampled hundreds of bats and people who live near bat caves in search of Sars-related viruses.

"Even if the Sars-Cov-2 precursor wasn't from those miners or the Mojiang mine, did they find other viruses that are very closely related that we don't know about yet?" She asked.

It sounds like the plot from a science fiction film: a manipulated virus emerging from a high-tech laboratory and causing global chaos.

However, there are numerous precedents, including two researchers infected with Sars in a Beijing virology lab in 2004.

Studies also show that accidents involving deadly pathogens are common in laboratories where people work with microscopic viruses.

Prof. Shi admitted that she never expected an outbreak in a city so far from the home of the bats she was studying.

She said her first thought on hearing about coronavirus might be the culprit of asking herself, "Could you have come from our lab?"

Then she desperately rushed back to Wuhan to check her records for possible abuse of materials – proving that she believed such a leak was possible.

There is also another laboratory in Wuhan with a lower level of biosecurity, 500 meters from the animal market.

A study published on a research sharing website by two Chinese scientists in February and then accessed two days later mysteriously claimed that 605 bats were kept here to describe how some attacked, bled and urinated a researcher .

"It is plausible that the virus leaked," concluded the paper.

Perhaps this theory will dissolve as we find out new facts.

Or scientists will come up with an alternative explanation for how Covid-19 passed from bats to humans.

Likewise, it is possible that we will never find out the truth about the origins of this virus.

But at this point the only certainty is that all of us science – and indeed investigative reporting – will do a disservice if that idea is abandoned without being properly disproved and without evidence.

We owe this to a world that has been so disrupted by this pandemic.

Charles Tyrwhitt cuts shirt manufacturing in China after customers complained about the Beijing government

By Harriet Dennys, city correspondent for the Post am Sonntag

British shirt maker Charles Tyrwhitt is cutting production in China after customers said they no longer wanted to buy products from the country.

Founder Nick Wheeler told The Mail on Sunday: “We respond to customer requests.

“Many customers tell us that they don't want us to make shirts in China. You don't like the Chinese government. & # 39;

The company is not only reducing the number of garments made in China, but also ending contracts with cotton suppliers in Xinjiang Province from July.

Mr. Wheeler also cited broader human rights issues for this move, saying, "There are areas of Chinese manufacturing that use forced labor. It is so far from anything we would ever do."

British shirt maker Charles Tyrwhitt is cutting production in China after customers said they no longer wanted to buy products from the country. Founder Nick Wheeler told The Mail on Sunday, "We respond to customer requests."

British shirt maker Charles Tyrwhitt is cutting production in China after customers said they no longer wanted to buy products from the country. Founder Nick Wheeler told The Mail on Sunday, "We respond to customer requests."

Charles Tyrwhitt is just one of a dozen multinational corporations who are scaling back production in China and imposing high tariffs on Chinese goods imported into the US because of such concerns.

A study by Swiss bank UBS last year found that three out of four US firms with factories in China are either moving or considering relocating to other countries such as Vietnam.

These include Nike and Apple, which could move nearly a third of their iPhone production out of China.

Relations between China and Australia are also deteriorating. Beijing has put tariffs on barley and wine and disrupts imports of many other Australian goods.

Charles Tyrwhitt makes all of his shirts overseas – there are factories in Vietnam, India, Malaysia, Italy, Portugal and Eastern Europe.

In the UK, the company has shoes in Northampton, ties in Essex and suit fabrics in Yorkshire.

Mr Wheeler said customers had asked him to make shirts in the UK, but said higher manufacturing costs would mean he would have to more than quadruple prices and charge around £ 140 per shirt.

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