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Coded messages add to COVID lab leak theory, say specialists

Coded messages hidden within reports from the Chinese lab at the centre of COVID origin theories add to a growing body of evidence that the virus leaked, causing the global pandemic, disputing the official theory from the WHO and some senior scientists that the virus jumped from animals into humans in what is known as a “spillover event”.

Toy Reid, an expert in “official speak” used by Chinese elites, believes updates from the Wuhan Institute of Virology sent weeks before the first official case of COVID in China detail an ongoing crisis at the lab with which the country’s President, Xi Jinping, may have been dealing personally.

Daily Mail reports that Reid, part of the team that put together a US Senate report backing the lab leak theory, uncovered documents from mid-November 2019 that contain cryptic references to a “grave situation”, “hidden dangers” and “severe consequences”.

The same documents describe how a high-level Beijing official visited the lab bearing “important oral remarks and written instructions” from Xi Jinping and China’s former Premier, Li Keqiang.

While it is impossible to know exactly what was discussed, Reid and three other experts agreed the documents appear to reference an ongoing crisis that had coincidentally taken place before Wuhan was overrun by COVID.

It is the latest piece in a growing body of evidence that disputes the official theory – pedalled by the WHO and some senior scientists – that the virus jumped from animals into humans in what is known as a “spillover event”.

Reid’s evidence forms part of a 500-plus page report put together by the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labour and Pensions, a 35-page summary of which was released last week.

The summary, which does not include much of the evidence the team gathered, concluded that COVID “most likely” leaked from a lab and that evidence pointing to a natural spillover is “still missing”.

Pro Publica and Vanity Fair magazine obtained a copy of the full report, interviewed Reid, and then submitted his analysis to three independent experts who fact-checked his findings and came to largely the same conclusions.

Reid based his findings on reports uploaded from Chinese Communist Party officials based at the Wuhan Institute (WIV), which are sent to Beijing weekly.

Because the reports are supposed to prove loyalty to the party and the fulfilment of its aims, any problems are cloaked in a thick veil of legalese that can be hard to penetrate.

But Reid uncovered cryptic references to “opening Pandora’s Box” in a report on 12 November, as party officials describe opening test tube samples.

The report adds: “These viruses come without a shadow and leave without a trace. Although (we have) various preventive and protective measures, it is nevertheless necessary for lab personnel to operate very cautiously to avoid operational errors that give rise to dangers.

“Every time this has happened, the members of the Zhengdian Lab Party Branch have always run to the frontline, and they have taken real action to mobilise and motivate other research personnel.”

Reid concluded that these messages refer to an ongoing issue at the lab and pre-empted some kind of disciplinary action from Beijing, hence the reference to party officials “taking real action”.

Beijing does appear to have sent an official to deliver a stern warning the next week: Dr Ji Changzheng, director of safety and security at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

While his visit was billed as routine safety training, in fact the lab had already completed training in April that year.

A report dated 19 November chronicles the visit, and reveals Dr Ji met with senior members of the lab to deliver “important oral remarks and written instructions” from Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.

Ji spoke about “many large-scale cases of domestic and foreign safety incidents in recent years”, again referencing “hidden dangers” which “revealed the complex and grave situation currently facing (bio)security work”, the report said.

Reid said officials also refer to “pishi” – handwritten notes scrawled in the pages of official reports by higher-ups – which typically convey urgent actions for those lower down the chain to follow.

He believes the “pishi” Ji delivered might have been written by Xi himself, suggesting that whatever was happening at the lab was serious enough to require the attention and personal input of China’s all-powerful leader.

Three experts shown the same evidence all concluded that the reports appear to be referencing an ongoing crisis at the lab and that Ji’s visit was not routine. Two agreed that Xi seems to have personally written instructions for the lab’s managers. A third said it was not possible to tell what Xi may or may not have known, but that the wording implies “something really bad” was going on.

While Reid and the three experts say it is impossible to know exactly what was discussed at the meeting, it came just weeks before the first officially recorded COVID infections.

Chinese Government documents reported by the South China Morning Post but never made public also document a case of COVID in Hubei province (where Wuhan is located) on 17 November, two days before the meeting.

Reid, as well as the experts interviewed by Pro Publica and Vanity Fair, and the Senate committee which put the new report together, have not concluded that COVID leaked from a lab.

However, they have pointed to new evidence suggesting it could have leaked, a theory once dismissed by the WHO as “extremely unlikely” and treated as a conspiracy by politicians, and say it is the “most likely” explanation.

Crucial evidence to support the theory that COVID moved from animals into people remains missing, they wrote, while attempts by China to stymie investigations into the lab harm its credibility.

“The hypothesis of a natural zoonotic origin no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt, or the presumption of accuracy,” they add.

Scientists researching the “spillover” theory of COVID’s origins argue that the virus probably originated in bats, but would probably have needed to move through a second animal to make it more infectious to humans before making the final jump.

While viruses that look similar to COVID have been found in the wild, researchers have never been able to identify that second host animal or explain how exactly the “spillover” happened.

The leading theory is that an infected animal was sold as food at a Wuhan market because that is where the first cluster of cases was found.

However, scientists have been unable to rule out the possibility that the virus was brought into the market by an already-infected person before spreading.

Many of these riddles could be answered by discovering “patient zero”, the first person to be infected, but scientists have been unable to track them down.

Theories that the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute centre around highly controversial “gain of function” research in which the lab was engaged.

Such research involves tinkering with viruses to make then more infectious or deadly, to study what the impact to society would be or to develop treatments before the scenario plays out for real.

However, many within the scientific community argue the risks of such research – releasing a highly infectious or deadly virus into the world – outweigh the benefits.

Proponents of this theory say it solves the problem of the intermediate host because, if scientists extracted the virus from a bat then modified it themselves, it would explain how it was so well-suited to spread in humans.

The Wuhan institute was well-known for studying bat coronaviruses, with one of its doctors, Shi Zhengli, dubbed “China’s batwoman” due to her speciality.

China has denied being responsible for leaking the pathogen and has instead emphasised the theory that it was imported from outside the country on frozen meat, which would conveniently shift the blame beyond its borders.

Beijing has refused to allow an independent team of experts free rein to investigate the virus’ origins, including detailed examination of the Wuhan lab.

A WHO team was allowed into the country to conduct a heavily stage-managed investigation back in February 2021, which dismissed the lab leak theory in favour of natural spillover.

Their report, however, was panned as little more than a whitewashing of Chinese propaganda and the body has since backtracked slightly, insisting a lab leak remains a possible hypothesis.

 

Daily Mail article – Are these the ‘hidden’ messages that prove Covid leaked from a lab? Reports detail ‘grave situation’ and ‘severe consequences’ at Wuhan institute around the time virus emerged (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

Wuhan scientists planned to release coronavirus into bat caves: Leaked papers

 

Biden shuts down US State efforts to find a Wuhan lab leak

 

New studies point COVID origin evidence to Wuhan wet market

 

 

 

 

Antarctic find fuels theory of accidental COVID leak from research lab

 

 

 

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