Unpublished letter to Mail on Sunday
Zeng Rong of the Embassy of the Peoples’ Republic of China protests too much in his letter you carried last week (Mail on Sunday, April 5). He may be correct that the Chinses authorities have had great achievements in combatting Covid19 since it escalated, but what remains unanswered is how did the fugitive virus originate and escape from Wuhan?
If it indeed started in the Wuhan live-wet market, then the local environmental health authorities have a huge responsibility for allowing creatures such as live bats and live pangolins (an anteater look-alike) to co-exist close together in cages, when it is known the latter is a carrier of bat-orgin viruses.
And it is also known that zoonoses ( animal- to-human viral contamination) is possible from pangolins, which are illegally on sale in the giant market. It is little known that UK suppliers have shipped creatures to be sold in these live-wet markets, despite the the cruel conditions in which creatures there are kept.
But if the fugitive Covid19 virus escaped somehow from the Chinese State’s only National Laboratory of Virology, located in Wuhan, as your political editor proposes it might have in his article “Did the Virus leak from a Research Lab in Wuhan?”
The British Government has shown a complete disinterest in this possibility.
For example, on 10th March a question (number HL1839) from Lord Alton of Liverpool asked ministers what assessment they had made of the number and location of microbiology laboratories in China that handle advanced viruses; and what assessment they have made of the role any such laboratories may have had in the initial spread of the Wuhan coronavirus?”
It was was extraordinarily answered by Lord Bethell with: “We do not hold this information.” s
Labour's youngest MP, Nadia Whittome ,was similarly given a brush-off by junior health minister, Jo Churchill , on 26 March in a written answer (29268) saying "We have no plans to authorise research into the security control of viruses under investigation at the Wuhan State Institute of Virology."
Why is the UK Government so ignorant? In formation is readily available in the public domain.
For example, Nature journal reported three years ago that a major maximum-security biolab was being developed by the Chinese Government part of plan to build network of biosafety-level four (BSL-4 facilities) across China: the first was to be opened in Wuhan.
It was planned to focus on the control of emerging diseases, store purified viruses and act as a World Health Organization ‘reference laboratory’ linked to similar labs around the world. (“Inside the Chinese lab poised to study world's most dangerous pathogens,” Nature, 22 February 2017: www.nature.com/news/inside-the-chinese-lab-poised-to-study-world-s-most-dangerous-pathogens-1.21487)
Two years later, the US Centers for Disease Control issued a press briefing note in May 2019 (https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/25/5/18-0220_article) on the ‘Biosafety Level 4 Laboratory User Training Program, China’ prepared by seven authors from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Wuhan branch).
The authors stressed: “According to China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, the chance that exotic pathogens could be brought into the country has dramatically increased Our new BSL-4 facility will play an integral role in preventing and controlling highly pathogenic microbes.”
And concluded ominously “Microbes contained in BSL-4 laboratories pose a significant risk for transmission and are frequently fatal; most have no reliable cure.”
What went so catastrophically wrong?