Covid lab leak theory whistleblower wants to uncover more next year

US intelligence agencies looking into data from Wuhan lab

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One of the first scientists to publicly float the idea that COVID-19 leaked from a lab in Wuhan has not given up in her efforts to keep investigating the origins of the virus – and she could be set to uncover more in 2023. Dr Alina Chan, a gene therapy and cell engineering specialist at The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, has been persistent in her efforts to shine a light on the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in China and is determined to find out how the virus actually started.

Until Dr Chan bravely told MPs at a session of the Science and Technology Select Committee in 2021 that it is “not safe for people who know about the origin of the pandemic to come forward”, theories like these were derided as conspiracies.

She first suspected that the virus may have leaked from the Wuhan lab back in March 2020 after noticing that no one had found any infected animals at the Wuhan wet market, where Covid was thought to have started.

But back then, scientists were reluctant to dispute the notion that the virus was zoonotic – meaning it was passed from animal to human.

She has also co-authored Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19 with science writer Matt Ridley, one of the most comprehensive texts to question the virus’ origins.

Mr Ridley spoke to back in January 2022 after a leaked email chain appeared to show that scientists had discussed the lab leak theory in the early days of the pandemic, but never publicly came forward.

He told “There was a motive among the people on this exchange to quash this theory because of the damage it might do to science in general and science in China. That does seem to have been the reason why the scientists who thought a laboratory leak was plausible then sat down and wrote an article saying it wasn’t.

“That is frankly upsetting for those of us who are champions of science to find that scientists are putting political convenience above the truth.”

Mr Ridley also argued that “harsh” actions were taken by the Chinese state that helped to crush a proper investigation into Covid’s origins. But the science writer and Dr Chan were determined to shine a light on this issue.

The White House has also acknowledged this, and last year it ordered an investigation into the origins of the virus. US President Joe Biden said in a statement: “Critical information about the origins of this pandemic exists in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), yet from the beginning, government officials in China have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it.

“To this day, the PRC continues to reject calls for transparency and withhold information, even as the toll of this pandemic continues to rise. We needed this information rapidly, from the PRC, while the pandemic was still new. Since taking office, my administration has renewed U.S. leadership in the World Health Organization and rallied allies and partners to renew focus on this critical question.”

Adding weight to the lab leak theory, the WIV also suspiciously deleted a database of viruses not long before the pandemic broke out. However, Mr Ridley and Dr Chan both accept that a zoonotic spillover is a plausible explanation as to how the virus may have started.

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But despite being hit with harsh critical backlash from other scientists and Chinese media when she went public with her claims back in 2020, the scientist has not given up. This is despite being branded a “race traitor” by one outlet due to her part-Chinese heritage. She reportedly even considered changing her name at one point as the criticism got so intense.

Hackers have since discovered evidence showing that WIV researchers were collecting bats and carrying out experiments that could have resulted in a lab leak, although the wet market explanation has still not been ruled out. And Dr Chan is still just as vocal as ever in her quest to uncover to the true beginnings of the virus that has claimed millions of lives around the globe as the world waits for the US investigation to conclude.

She tweeted this month: “It would be a huge letdown if the coming US-based #OriginOfCovid investigation does not ultimately lead to more insight into how the pandemic started. Finding the origin requires looking into places where evidence is likely to exist, not just people who pushed a nature origin.”

If the lab leak theory does turn out to be true, Dr Chan will have had a huge part to play and could go down in history as the scientist who uncovered a scandal.

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