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Peter Daszak, a longtime collaborator with the Wuhan Institute of Virology who steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in National Institutes of Health funding to the Chinese lab, has been recused from a COVID-19 origins investigation run by a commission organized under the auspices of the Lancet medical journal.
The Lancet COVID-19 Commission, which will “focus on analyzing data on all of the theories put forward on the origins of COVID," stated on its website that Daszak, who had been listed as a chairman of the origins task force as early as December, is now “recused from Commission work on the origins of the pandemic.”
The NIH’s RePORTER website said the agency provided $15.2 million to Daszak’s New York-based EcoHealth Alliance over the years, with $3.74 million toward understanding bat coronavirus emergence. Daszak, a key member of the World Health Organization-China joint study team earlier this year, maintained a long working relationship with Wuhan lab “bat lady” Shi Zhengli, sending at least $600,000 in NIH funding for bat coronavirus research.
Daszak dismissed the lab leak hypothesis during a 60 Minutes appearance in March when he admitted he took Wuhan lab workers at their word and claimed their answers seemed convincing. He also said he didn't see evidence of a Chinese cover-up. Daszak criticized the Biden administration for skepticism of WHO’s findings and defended China on Communist Party-linked outlets.
It was not immediately clear why Daszak was recused.
The Lancet origins investigation is looking into “the reasons why SARS-CoV-2 was able to break out of Wuhan and spread globally” and “will assess the validity of evidence, the weight of evidence, and the gaps in our understanding for each key question and issue," according to its task force website.
A letter signed by 27 scientists, including Daszak, and published in Lancet in February 2020, dismissed the lab leak hypothesis as a conspiracy theory. Numerous outlets pointed to Daszak to shut down the debate over COVID-19’s origins.
The letter praised China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as “remarkable.” It claimed early last year, “The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumours and misinformation around its origins. We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin … Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus … We want you, the science and health professionals of China, to know that we stand with you in your fight against this virus.”
A State Department fact sheet released in January contended Wuhan lab researchers “conducted experiments involving RaTG13, the bat coronavirus identified by the WIV in January 2020 as its closest sample to SARS-CoV-2 (96.2% similar)” and that the lab “has a published record of conducting ‘gain-of-function’ research to engineer chimeric viruses.”
The fact sheet also asserted the lab “engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military” and that lab workers became sick with coronavirus-like symptoms in autumn 2019.
The U.S. intelligence community said at least one of its 18 agencies is leaning toward the lab leak hypothesis, and President Joe Biden ordered all of the spy agencies to “redouble” their investigative efforts last month.
Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit group, show Daszak organized the Lancet statement denouncing the lab leak hypothesis and recruited prominent scientists to sign on to it. One email said, “This statement will not have EcoHealth Alliance logo on it and will not be identifiable as coming from any one organization or person.”
Daszak suggested he would not sign the letter “so it has some distance from us and therefore doesn't work in a counterproductive way.” However, he ultimately attached his name as a signatory but not the organizer.
The Lancet letter claimed their statement was “further supported” by a previous letter, written two weeks earlier by the three presidents of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which also downplayed the likelihood of a lab accident.
Daszak was one of seven experts consulted for that letter, according to the footnotes. In the emails about drafting the Lancet statement, Daszak wrote of his desire to release the supposedly independent Lancet statement after the science academy's letter came out to reference it. Daszak cautioned another scientist, Ralph Baric, against signing the Lancet statement because he planned to “put it out in a way that doesn't link it back to our collaboration so we maximize an independent voice.”
Baric, another prominent coronavirus researcher, agreed he would not sign the letter because “otherwise it looks self-serving and we lose impact.” An article in Nature Medicine published in 2015 following a study by Baric, Shi, and others noted, “Using the SARS-CoV reverse genetics system, we generated and characterized a chimeric virus expressing the spike of bat coronavirus SHC014.”
An editor’s note added to the article in March 2020 added, “We are aware that this article is being used as the basis for unverified theories that the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 was engineered. There is no evidence that this is true; scientists believe that an animal is the most likely source of the coronavirus.”
Baric was among several scientists who signed a letter in Science magazine in May arguing "theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable."
The United States and its allies are largely pinning hopes for a second COVID-19 origins investigation in China on the WHO, despite the WHO-China joint study team’s visit to Wuhan earlier this year that essentially dismissed the lab leak hypothesis as a failure. The WHO-China report said a lab leak was “extremely unlikely” and that a jump from animals to humans was most likely. Meeting minutes from discussions between Wuhan lab scientists and the WHO-China team reveal lab leak concerns were referred to as “conspiracy theories.”
The top watchdog for the Department of Health and Human Services launched an investigation into NIH’s research funding, likely including EcoHealth and the Wuhan lab, earlier this month following calls from Republicans to scrutinize funds ending up at the Wuhan lab.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and NIH Director Francis Collins insist the NIH did not fund gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab, but they also admit they don’t actually know about all the activities of the secretive Chinese lab.
The NIH said its grant to EcoHealth was “terminated” on April 24, 2020, but “reinstated” on July 8, 2020. Shi told Nature magazine in August the NIH’s actions were “outrageous,” and Daszak said it was “extremely frustrating.”
Fauci announced in August the awarding of $17 million in grants for a “global network” to investigate “how and where viruses and other pathogens emerge from wildlife and spillover to cause disease in people.” One out of the 11 “principal investigator” grantees was Daszak. EcoHealth said in August it had received $7.5 million over five years from the NIAID.
During a press conference in Geneva following a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden did not directly answer media questions about whether he would press Chinese President Xi Jinping on Chinese blocks on the origin investigations.
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Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy
Original Location: Wuhan lab collaborator recused from Lancet’s COVID-19 origins investigation