May 28, 2024


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Coronavirus Origins: China-Appeasing Column Insists Lab-Leak Theory Is ‘Garbage’

Health workers wear protective gear inside a locked-down portion of the Jordan residential area to contain a new outbreak of the coronavirus in Hong Kong, China, January 23, 2021. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

On the menu today: A Los Angeles Times columnist decrees the lab-leak theory to be “garbage” and says the real lesson of the pandemic is that the United States needs to “cooperate with China” more; a “3.6 Roentgen reading” of a jobs report; a Chinese-government spokesman suffers a bitter defeat; and an appreciation for some kind words.

Even Now, the Usual Suspects Demand We ‘Cooperate with China’

Over in the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik writes an entire column arguing that the lab-leak theory is “garbage,” and the first piece of evidence he cites is a research paper in Nature from February 2020.

Now, has anything happened since February 2020 that might alter one’s perspective on the probable cause of this pandemic? Anything at all?

Hiltzik writes:

There’s an argument for getting more accountability out of China about its handling of the viral outbreak in its earliest stages. But there’s also an argument against pointing fingers at the Chinese regime or its scientific establishment without evidence: China’s cooperation will be crucial for world health in the future, and it’s less likely to happen if China feels it has been unjustly blamed for COVID-19.

“The lab-leak hypothesis is taking the oxygen out of what’s really needing to be done, which is cooperating with China,” [Robert F. Garry of Tulane Medical School] told his colleagues on the recent webcast.

“Follow the animals,” he said. “That’s where we’re going to find the origin of COVID-19.”

First of all, looking at labs researching novel coronaviruses in bats, in some cases collected in the mine that housed the virus most genetically similar to SARS-CoV-2 identified in nature so far, IS “following the animals.” As noted yesterday, Chinese researchers have been attempting to “follow the animals” to a possible wet market or farm for nearly a year and a half, and they still haven’t found an infected animal. This is not how things shook out with SARS back in 2003.

Suspecting a lab leak is not cheerleading for wet markets. Wet markets are dangerously unsanitary, and a potential outbreak threat, and ought to be cleaned up or banned. But the existence of wet markets doesn’t rule out the possibility of a lab accident, and the potential of lab accidents doesn’t mean that there’s no risk of future infections at wet markets.

“Cooperate with China?” How? This perspective ignores the fact that the Chinese government refuses to cooperate in any significant way with any independent inquiry! The Washington Post summarizes today:

The WHO chief, the Biden administration, other governments and scientists around the world have rebuked China for not making this investigation any easier.

Chinese authorities weren’t much more receptive of the international team commissioned by the WHO. Negotiations over the arrangements delayed the team from getting to Wuhan until more than a year after doctors first raised concerns there. Once on the ground, the international experts were given limited access. They visited the market linked to early coronavirus cases — but it had been shut for a year and its contents long ago removed. Their visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology lasted three hours. In general, they had to satisfy themselves with data that was in large part collected by Chinese scientists before the trip . . .

. . . Wuhan’s two rival teams of exotic bat disease specialists are now under renewed scrutiny. Tian’s team at the Wuhan CDC and Shi Zhengli’s at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) have both drawn criticism for a willingness to compromise safety, as they raced to make discoveries.

The Wuhan CDC and WIV did not reply to requests for comment, nor did Tian or Shi. An unnamed staffer who answered the phone Tuesday at the Wuhan CDC said the center did not accept interviews and directed questions to the National Health Commission. The NHC did not reply to a request for comment.

China’s Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy in Washington declined to answer questions for this article.

Look who’s calling for greater transparency from the Chinese government in the pages of the Financial Times:

Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser has called on China to release the medical records of nine people whose illnesses might provide vital clues into whether Covid-19 first emerged as the result of a lab leak.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, told the Financial Times that the records could help resolve the debate over the origins of a disease that has killed more than 3.5m people worldwide. The records in question concern three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who reportedly became sick in November 2019, and six miners who fell ill after entering a bat cave in 2012. Scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology subsequently visited the cave to take samples from the bats. Three of the miners died.

“I would like to see the medical records of the three people who are reported to have got sick in 2019,” Fauci said. “Did they really get sick, and if so, what did they get sick with? “The same with the miners who got ill years ago  . . . What do the medical records of those people say? Was there [a] virus in those people? What was it? It is entirely conceivable that the origins of Sars-Cov-2 was in that cave and either started spreading naturally or went through the lab.”

Those are all good questions. In fact, those seem like good questions that should have been asked before the U.S. National Institutes of Health started sending grant money to EcoHealth Alliance to pass along to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for gain-of-function research on coronaviruses found in bats.

I’ll put it to you, dear reader: What do you think it means that China won’t share any of that information? Why did Chinese authorities refuse to share “raw patient data on 174 cases that China had identified from the early phase of the outbreak” when the WHO team visited? Why did the Wuhan Institute of Virology suddenly cease public access to its database of records of some 22,000 samples and some of their genetic sequences? Why did a second database of virus records, run by China’s National Virus Resource Center, also suddenly become restricted? Why do you think that in April 2020, the Chinese government decreed that any academic papers dealing with the origins of the virus be approved by China’s Ministry of Science and Technology before publication? Why did Xiaobo Tao, a scholar from South China University of Technology, publish a paper theorizing that COVID-19 originated from bats being used for research at either one of the two research laboratories in Wuhan on February 6, 2020, and then withdraw it days later, with a vague explanation that he no longer believed it?

What do some folks need to see before they conclude, “Yeah, this looks like Chinese government is trying to hide something”?

The argument in Hiltzik’s column amounts to, “We need to cooperate more with those people who are refusing to cooperate with the investigation in any way.”

The New Jobs Report Is Too Good to Be Bad, Too Bad to Be Good

After high hopes, the updated jobs report is kind of like that 3.6 Roentgen reading in the HBO miniseries Chernobyl: “Not great, not terrible.” Adding 559,000 jobs to the economy in a month is too good to be considered bad, and the overall unemployment rate declined to 5.8 percent. But with so many Americans vaccinated and with COVID restrictions ending, schools reopening, and so on, we had good reason to expect a nice big surge of hiring and a skyrocketing economy.

The April numbers were revised upward by 278,000, which is an improvement from colossally disappointing to merely “disappointing.” (Analysts had expected a million new jobs in a month.) But this month’s total was still about 100,000 fewer jobs than the markets expected, the labor-force-participation rate remained about the same.

The BLS report states that, “In May, employment in leisure and hospitality increased by 292,000, as pandemic-related restrictions continued to ease in some parts of the country. Nearly two-thirds of the increase was in food services and drinking places (+186,000).”

I noticed the other day that a bunch of restaurants in my neck of the woods have shut their doors — and several of them managed to survive a long stretch of the pandemic before finally succumbing to insurmountable financial pressures. I wonder if we’re in a painful window in between when the pandemic killed off a bunch of established small businesses, but the next generation of small businesses haven’t gotten started and opened their doors yet.

Take That, Beijing!

In a terrible setback for the Chinese government, their spokesman LeBron James and his team, the Los Angeles Lakers, were eliminated in the first round of the NBA playoffs last night, one season after winning the NBA championship.

ADDENDA: To everyone who has generously supported us during our current pledge drive — focusing on NR’s early, frequent, in-depth, and lasting coverage of the lab-leak theory — thank you.

. . . Thanks to Gary Robbins and the other Ricochet commenters in his thread for the kind words about the Dangerous Clique thriller novels. There are a lot of thrillers out there, and a lot of more experienced thriller writers who know the worlds of spies and the military much better than I do. But I think it is safe to say that between the quirky humor, deep research, unusual locations, obscure pop-culture references, and subtle political and social observations, there’s nothing quite like them out there.

I saw in the thread a few questions about the next book. It’s in the works. The dramatic development in the life of Katrina and Alec that emerged in the final pages of Hunting Four Horsemen will be affecting their lives very dramatically. At this point, the general plot is that the team is going to be dealing with a threat that is particularly personal, and ties back to the Dangerous Clique’s first mission, a seat-of-their-pants stumbling start in 2003 that the world barely noticed, with so much attention focusing upon the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

What readers really seemed to respond to in Between Two Scorpions and Hunting Four Horsemen was the portrait of our modern zeitgeist — the sense of foreign foes capitalizing on intensifying American social divisions and distrust of fellow citizens, and the fear that unscrupulous scientists, eager to cash in on their knowledge, could cheerfully pry open Pandora’s Box. So, in addition to trying to make the characters, plot, dialogue, and the rest solid, I’m currently thinking a lot about what real-world threats frighten us now and will frighten us in the years to come. Military applications of artificial intelligence? The world’s biggest tech companies amassing power that rivals that of governments? Russian hackers shutting down our vital services without warning? A sense of neo-anarchism and angry political movements focused on tearing down institutions with no desire to replace them with anything?