The Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) can be added to the growing chorus of rational voices who are open to the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 could have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) - where scientists infamous for creating hybrid bat coronaviruses that can infect humans swear they have nothing to do with the current outbreak.
NIH Director Francis Collins says that while he believes coronavirus was "absolutely not" genetically engineered, he cannot rule out the possibility that it escaped from the Wuhan lab.
"Whether [the coronavirus] could have been in some way isolated and studied in this laboratory in Wuhan, we have no way of knowing," Collins told Politico on Wednesday. "Nature created this virus, and has proven once again to be the most effective bioterrorist," he added.
In April, WIV vice director Zhiming Yuan told Chinese state broadcaster CGTN, "there is no way this virus came from us," according to NBC News. "We have a strict regulatory regime and code of conduct of research, so we are confident."
Did the Beijing laboratory which had two SARS escape incidents follow the same 'regulatory regime' we wonder?
President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have both repeatedly claimed that the virus may have emerged from the WIV, while the so-called 'five eyes' intelligence agencies (US, UK, New Zealand, Australia and Canada) are investigating the origins of the virus - and in particular are "looking closely at the work of a senior scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Peng Zhou," as part of a joint international investigation into the origins of COVID-19, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Meanwhile the Office of the Director of National Intelligence confirmed weeks ago that the US government is participating in the investigation, though there is no reason to believe the virus was manmade or genetically altered.
Collins refused to comment on his agency’s recent — and controversial — decision to pull funding from researchers studying how coronaviruses spread from bats to people. In late April the NIH told the EcoHealth Alliance, whose collaborators included scientists at the Wuhan virology lab, that its project did not “align with the program goals and agency priorities.”
Prominent scientific societies and 77 Nobel laureates have asked the administration to investigate why the nonprofit group’s grant was terminated, alleging that the decision was made for political, rather than scientific, reasons. The NIH awards grants using a merit-based system in which researchers evaluate the work of their peers, and ending a grant early is unusual. -Politico
Zero Hedge exposed Zhou's involvement in bat research in January, along with studies by his colleague, "bat woman" Shi Zhengli. As we reported in February, Shi co-authored a controversial 2015 paper which described the creation of a new virus by combining a coronavirus found in Chinese horseshoe bats with another that causes human-like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in mice. This research sparked a huge debate at the time over whether engineering lab variants of viruses with possible pandemic potential is worth the risks.
Nature.com responded with concern, penning a 2015 rebuke , that reinforce suspicions that bat coronaviruses capable of directly infecting humans (rather than first needing to evolve in an intermediate animal host) may be more common than previously thought.
Collins says he "seriously hopes" that if China develops a COVID-19 vaccine before the United States, that tensions between the two nations "wouldn't be a dominant factor" in whether the US would have access to the treatment.
That's assuming, of course, that a vaccine arrives.