Parliament has now been dissolved ahead of the general election, as such there are no MPs. David Davis is the Conservative Party candidate for Goole and Pocklington. His campaign website is at daviddavis.uk.

Covid inquiry must not shut down idea of China lab leak

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As published in the Sun

The UK’s Covid Inquiry is rapidly turning into the most expensive reality TV show in history.

£100 million just to see ministers, civil servants and so-called experts squabbling over who’s to blame? I’d rather watch ‘I’m a Celeb’.

I said way back in early 2021 that we would be better off having the inquiry in two stages – one short one working out the best model for dealing with the next pandemic, and one more detailed one working out more precisely what went right and wrong last time.

This would have been perfectly achievable: Sweden, which bucked the global trend and avoided lockdowns, has already completed its inquiry and learnt most of the useful lessons.

Instead, we’ve got a massive, unwieldy inquiry that will take years – and we are no nearer to learning any lessons.

That much is clear from how the inquiry reacted when Michael Gove dared to suggest coronavirus might have been man-made.

Effectively, he was slapped down. The inquiry’s top lawyer told him off for talking about issues outside the inquiry’s scope, and said the issue was “somewhat divisive, so we’re not going to go there”.

Call me old-fashioned, but I thought inquiries were supposed to deliver answers to questions – the clue is in the name. Instead, those leading this one are being hugely restrictive on what can and cannot be discussed. As a result, we are not getting any real answers out of it.

What is more, inquiries should not be tiptoeing around ‘divisive’ issues. These are precisely the issues about which there should be the most debate. Yet it seems the bigwigs think those matters are closed.

In reality, there is some basis on which to think the virus was man-made, either intentionally or otherwise. This is not some half-witted conspiracy theory. If it was, eminent scientists and medical experts would not have given it any credence.

And this really matters. If we conclude the virus was man-made, that would have serious implications for future restrictions on so-called ‘Gain of Function’ medical research. This research carries huge risks for the world if it is not done properly. If it has been happening in China – hardly a regime we can trust – that is a serious concern. We should recognise these dangers and behave accordingly.

But those raising such concerns and positing the idea of the lab leak theory have been shut down. Indeed, the idea that the virus was man-made was banned on Facebook, and claims that it escaped from a lab were targeted by so-called fact-checkers. The inquiry should not be following Big Tech’s censorious and arbitrary example, but should instead be looking for real answers.

Whatever the truth, these questions have major implications for how we react to future health threats. And it is not as though the spectre of future health emergencies does not hang over us.

This week the UK Health Security Agency detected a new strain of swine flu in humans and last week the World Health Organisation raised concerns about an increase in respiratory illnesses in Chinese children.

Both are reminders that the prospect of a new pandemic is less “if” and more “when”.

We need to properly scrutinise China’s position in the pandemic and what role it may have played in the disaster that spread across the globe.

It is unlikely China created and released the virus on purpose. But we should not be afraid of asking difficult questions about China’s actions in failing to contain the virus in the final months of 2019.

Sadly, there has been little sign of this. The one thing to come out of the Covid inquiry has been that few of the people making the decisions about how to respond to the virus had much of a clue what they were doing. Even fewer had a decent grasp of the science.

Yet they ignored or silenced alternative voices that could have saved countless lives if they were listened to.

The reaction to Michael Gove’s comments shows they haven’t learned a thing.

That does not bode well for the next pandemic, which could come at any time. We clearly are not ready.