Researchers believed that Covid had leaked from the Wuhan laboratory

E-mails show that researchers seriously discussed the theory of laboratory leakage, but that they feared that the debate could harm science in China - Hector Retamal / AFP via Getty Images

E-mails show that researchers seriously discussed the theory of laboratory leakage, but that they feared that the debate could harm science in China – Hector Retamal / AFP via Getty Images

Leading British and American scientists believed that it was likely that Covid accidentally leaked from a laboratory but were concerned that further debate would harm science in China, emails show.

An email from Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, on February 2, 2020, said that “a likely explanation” was that Covid had rapidly evolved from a Sars-like virus inside human tissues in a low-security laboratory.

The e-mail, to Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Francis Collins of the US National Institutes of Health, went on to say that such a development may have “accidentally created a virus prepared for rapid transfer between people ”.

But a leading scientist told Sir Jeremy that “further debate would do unnecessary damage to science in general and to science in China in particular”. Dr. Collins, the former director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, warned that it could harm “international harmony.”

Viscount Ridley, co-author of Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid, said: “These emails show a regrettable lack of openness and transparency among Western scientists who appear to have been more interested in shutting down a hypothesis. , they thought was very plausible., for political reasons. “

In emails, Sir Jeremy said other scientists also believed the virus could not have evolved naturally. One such scientist was Professor Mike Farzan of Scripps Research, the expert who discovered how the original Sars virus binds to human cells.

Researchers were particularly concerned about a part of Covid-19 called the furin cleavage site, part of the tip protein, which helps it enter the cells and makes it so contagious to humans.

Sir Jeremy sums up Professor Farzan’s concerns in an email: “He is bothered by the furrow and finds it difficult to (to) explain it as an event outside the laboratory, even though there are possible ways in nature, but it is very unlikely.

“I think this is going to be a question of how to put all this together, whether you believe in this series of coincidences, what you know about the laboratory in Wuhan, how much can be in nature – accidental release or natural event? I’m 70:30 or 60:40. “

Later emails showed that on 4 February Sir Jeremy had revised his estimate of a laboratory leak to 50:50, while Professor Eddie Holmes of the University of Sydney gave an estimate of 60:40 in favor of an unintentional release.

Emails also show that Bob Garry of the University of Texas was not convinced Covid-19 occurred naturally.

“I just can not figure out how this is achieved in nature,” he said.

Professor Andrew Rambaut from the University of Edinburgh also said that the furin cleavage site “seems to me to be unusual”.

He added: “I think the only people with sufficient information or access to samples to address it would be the teams working in Wuhan.”

The new details emerged after members of the U.S. Republican House oversight committee gained access to the documents after complaining that their contents had been heavily edited when it was released during requests for freedom of information.

The emails were sent in response to a teleconference between 12 scientists, including Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, on 1 February.

E-mails show that as early as February 2, 2020, scientists were trying to shut down the debate on the laboratory leak theory.

An email from Dr. Ron Fouchier to Sir Jeremy said: “Further debate on such accusations will unnecessarily distract top scientists from their active duties and do unnecessary damage to science in general and science in China in particular.”

Dr. Collins, former director of the NIH, responded to Sir Jeremy, saying: “I share your view that there is a need for a speedy convening of experts in a trustworthy framework, otherwise the voices of the conspiracy will quickly dominate, doing great potential damage to science and international harmony. “

Institutions that were in possession of e-mails have repeatedly opposed efforts to publish their content.

The University of Edinburgh recently rejected a request for freedom of information from The Telegraph, which asked to see Prof Rambaut’s response, arguing that “disclosure is likely to endanger the physical or mental health and safety of individuals”.

James Comer, the Republican congressman who secured the unedited emails, said it showed that experts like Dr. Fauci had taken Wuhan’s laboratory leakage theory “much more seriously” than they had let go.

Sir Jeremy has been contacted for comment but did not respond at the time of publication.

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