America is set to present dramatic new evidence that the virus leaked from a Wuhan lab – in the final act of the Trump administration.
Senior officials in Washington say that outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to make a ‘bombshell intervention’.
They say he will reveal evidence that SARS-CoV-2 did not leap naturally from bats, pangolins or other species to humans.
Instead he will claim it was cultured by scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology – where Chinese and foreign experts have warned of poor bio-security for years.
British Foreign Office and security sources confirmed they were expecting the claims from Washington but dismissed them in advance, saying ‘all the credible scientific evidence does not point to a leak from the laboratory’.
Researchers work in a lab of Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, Hubei province, China
Pictured: Virologists work in the P4 lab of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in central China
They said this view was backed up intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic, adding: ‘The established view of the US intelligence community suggests the pandemic was natural in origin.’
Yesterday Boris Johnson backed the theory the virus first infected humans at the Wuhan wet market, where pangolins were among the live species on offer.
But Mr Pompeo is also set to cite close links between the Institute and the People’s Liberation Army.
He will point out its highest security section has always had a ‘dual use’ military and civilian purpose.
He is also expected to accuse the World Health Organisation of assisting in a Chinese cover-up by refusing to probe the lab’s possible role.
Its ten-person team tasked with investigating the pandemic’s origins will arrive in Wuhan tomorrow – but there is no mention of the lab in its official terms of reference.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said it was ‘vital’ the WHO team probe the institute as the possible origin of the pandemic.
He said: ‘We don’t know whether this virus was natural or artificially created, and if it came from the lab, whether this was an accident or deliberate. It would be immoral and foolish to allow any sort of cover-up.
Investigation: Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said it was ‘vital’ the WHO team probe the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China (pictured) as the possible origin of the Covid pandemic
‘If it emerges the virus did come from the lab, China will become the pariah of the world.’
China expert Sam Armstrong of the Henry Jackson Society think-tank said: ‘The global public has a right to know exactly what was going on prior to the emergence of this deadly pandemic. The question cannot be shirked.’
Dr Alina Chan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, who has been investigating the start of the pandemic, pointed out Beijing had already dismissed the theory that wildlife at the wet market was the source.
She said: ‘It is critically important we do locate the origin if something like this is not to happen again.
‘We have to take the necessary steps to do a proper investigation and, based on the available information, I don’t think the WHO is up to the task.’
David Relman, professor of microbiology at Stanford in California, has voiced fears that the Institute was genetically engineering natural viruses in ways that made them more transmissible.
Boris Johnson in a Protect The Pangolin t-shirt in 2018, while jogging with then Australian counterpart foreign minister Julie Bishop
He wrote in an academic article in November: ‘If SARS-CoV-2 escaped from a lab to cause the pandemic, it will become critical to understand the chain of events and prevent this from happening again.’
In 2018, US officials visited the Wuhan lab and warned of ‘a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators’.
Chinese reports reveal that in 2019, local Communist leaders warned of lax management and bio-security.
New safety guidelines were issued as late as January last year – when the pandemic was already starting to rage.
The lab’s highest security ‘P4’ section was built with French help in a deal signed off by Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. But after it opened in 2015, the French contingent due to work there were pushed out by China’s military.
A WHO spokesman said of its investigation: ‘We will follow the science.’
All the evidence points to cover-up…(but the truth can’t be hidden for ever)
Commentary by Edward Lucas
Secrets, lies and thuggery are the hallmark of the Chinese Communist regime. And in the mystery of the devastating Wuhan virus, all three are combined.
The strongest evidence of a crime is a cover-up. And the Chinese authorities have provided that.
They have fought ferociously to prevent an international inquiry into the pandemic’s origins.
Their repeated obstruction of the World Health Organisation’s fact-finding missions has provoked even that notoriously supine body to protest.
Even now, WHO investigators are being prevented from accessing the vitally important laboratory in Wuhan that is likely to be at the heart of America’s allegations.
Experts have been questioning the Chinese authorities’ account of events for a year. Now, it appears, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is to make a direct accusation.
Was it really pure chance the virus first attacked the human race in the only city in China with a research lab specialising in manipulating the world’s most dangerous viruses?
That would be as odd as a new disease emerging in the surroundings of Britain’s top-secret biological defence research establishment of Porton Down in Wiltshire.
To this day, scientists who support the theory that the virus is a mutation that emerged from Wuhan’s ‘wet market’ have not been able to find a convincing candidate for the animal in which this mutation actually occurred.
The official explanation is the new virus was 96 percent identical to a bat virus, RaTG13, found in Yunnan province in southern China.
But as Chinese professor Botao Xiao pointed out in a paper in February, no such bats are sold at the city’s markets. And the caves where they live are hundreds of miles away.
That paper disappeared from the internet. Mr Xiao — perhaps mindful of the fate that awaits those in China who promote inconvenient truths — disavowed it.
Many scientists privately assumed an engineered virus released via a laboratory accident was at least as likely as the idea of a series of stunningly unfortunate chance mutations.
Virologist Shi Zhengli inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, capital of China’s Hubei province
After all, Shi Zhengli, the Chinese scientist nicknamed ‘Bat Woman’ was a regular visitor to those caves. When news of the outbreak broke, she initially feared that a leak from her research institute was to blame.
That thought alone should have prompted a full-scale and searching inquiry. Instead, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued a diktat: ‘Any paper that traces the origin of the virus must be strictly and tightly managed.’
But even the Chinese regime cannot hold back the truth forever. Over the past twelve months independent research, official leaks and news reports have strengthened the lab-leak hypothesis.
In February a Taiwanese professor, Fang Chi-tai, highlighted a curious feature of the virus’s genetic code, which would make it more effective in attacking targeted cells. This was unlikely to be the result of a natural mutation, he suggested.
Much scientific research involves modifying viruses to understand how they function. Many observers have worried for years that the risks of such experiments are not properly thought through.
Lab safety procedures are riddled with potential loopholes and flaws: breakages, animal bites, faulty equipment or simple mis-labelling can all lead to a deadly pathogen reaching its first human victim. If so, such carelessness has now cost tens of millions of lives.
Yet we should be clear. The Chinese authorities are ruthless. But even they would not unleash a global plague.
Only in the fevered imagination of conspiracy theorists is Beijing deliberately waging biological warfare on the West.
Pictured: A woman walks past a shop on a street selling deep-fried scales of endangered pangolins, or scaly anteaters, in Hong Kong despite being the subject of an international ban
Pictured: The Wuhan Institute of Virology
Paradoxically, such speculation — promoted by among others President Donald Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon — may have hampered the search for the truth, by making the lab-release theory seem racist and politically toxic.
In February, in Britain’s politically correct medical journal, the Lancet, scientists published an open letter denouncing ‘conspiracy theories and rumours’, urging solidarity with Chinese colleagues.
Yet it was just those colleagues who were bearing the brunt of the regime’s frantic attempts to censor the truth about the outbreak.
The Chinese regime prizes self-preservation above all — certainly over the truth, or the health of its own people, let alone the lives of foreigners.