As published by the Mail on Sunday:
It has been almost 18 months since the world learned of the coronavirus pandemic. The first known case of Covid-19 was reported in Wuhan, a teeming city of 11 million people, on December 8, 2019.
Since then, the virus has moved from city to city and country to country, leaving death and destruction in its wake.
Yet we still know worryingly little about how the pandemic started.
The Mail on Sunday was the first mainstream newspaper to raise the prospect that the virus could have leaked from a Chinese laboratory and has pursued the story relentlessly ever since – in the face of stonewalling from the Beijing regime and from sections of the global scientific establishment.
Now, finally, the rest of the world is catching up.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal published evidence from a US intelligence report revealing that three workers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology had fallen ill with Covid-like symptoms as early as November 2019.
It is a finding which builds on the same claims made by American investigator David Asher in this newspaper last March. And it is a potentially devastating insight into the real origins of the virus and true timescale of its spread.
Since the threat of Covid-19 first emerged, most scientists have asserted – with no real evidence – that the virus was a natural mutation from an animal.
They were quick to reject allegations that it had leaked out, whether deliberately or accidentally, from the Wuhan institute.
The leading scientific journal, The Lancet, went so far as to publish a letter last February by 27 experts saying: ‘We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that 2019-nCoV does not have a natural origin.’
Thanks to interventions such as this, the science establishment shut down debate for well over a year.
But the questions they tried to bury can no longer be avoided. Today it seems likely Covid-19 was circulating in Wuhan well before Chinese authorities admitted the problem, a mistake that meant the loss of our most valuable commodity in this global battle – time.
And, tragically, that has resulted in the loss of countless lives.
Such is the alarm caused by the information now emerging that American President Joe Biden – a man, remember, who is more friendly to China than his predecessor – has ordered his intelligence agencies to give him a full report within three months. It cannot come too soon.
Governments around the world are holding inquiries into their own handling of the pandemic, but we need to ask more fundamental questions. Where did this virus come from? What did the Chinese know and when did they know it.
We still don’t have the answers because powerful interests have blocked or diverted inquiries at every turn.
First we were told Covid-19 had emerged from live animals in a ‘wet’ market in Wuhan. Initially this seemed a plausible explanation. But as time went by it became clear there was no corroborating evidence. Far from it.
There has been no evidence of transmission of Covid-19 from animals to humans anywhere in the world, despite 80,000 samples having been tested.
A 2002-03 SARS outbreak was accurately traced to markets in Guangdong province within a matter of weeks. Both scientific methods and testing capacity have improved significantly since then.
Yet the scientific community has persisted with this false line of reasoning. And the question is, why?
One key player in this scientific wild goose chase is Dr Peter Daszak, president of an American charity called EcoHealth Alliance.
Daszak is a British scientist whose expertise lies in zoonosis, the process by which a disease transfers from animals to humans. He was one of the authors of The Lancet letter which dismissed any suggestion of a lab leak in February last year.
He also wrote an article for The Guardian urging the world to ‘ignore the conspiracy theories’.
Yet, as Dr Daszak explained in his piece, he had been working with the Wuhan laboratory for more than 15 years – an admission which should have raised alarm bells.
It has been claimed that, through the way American funds were channelled, Dr Daszak has helped finance some of the laboratory’s work. Another red flag, surely.
We expect that any scientist is both impartial and objective, yet Dr Daszak has strong ties to the Wuhan institute.
He dismissed legitimate concerns about the official Chinese story and had no evidence to support his own conclusions.
The scientific establishment’s distrust of President Donald Trumpwas another factor in the way debate has been suppressed.
When Trump asserted the virus might have originated from the Wuhan lab, the claim was dismissed as political theatre.
His Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, even ordered an investigation. Although it was unable to ascertain the origins of the pandemic, the report criticised the Chinese authorities for ‘deceit and disinformation’.
Trump might well be proven right. However, even scientists who were concerned about a laboratory leak stayed silent, knowing that to agree with him in public might damage their own reputation.
If Biden’s intelligence agencies are to get to the bottom of how the virus started, they will need assistance from the Chinese authorities. Well, good luck with that!
China is now global arch-rival to the United States and will not reveal any information that might weaken its leadership or strategic position.
Just look at the coronavirus inquiry that was led by the World Health Organisation.
The investigating agents – who, notably, included Dr Daszak – were approved by the Chinese government. They were allowed only three hours’ access to the Wuhan institute. All of their ‘data’ came from official Chinese sources. No direct research was permitted.
It was, in short, an embarrassing sham. And the conclusion – that it was ‘extremely unlikely’ the virus had escaped from the lab – was widely seen as no more than the Beijing party line.
The report even pushed the ludicrous Chinese claim that Covid-19 could have arrived in Wuhan on imports of frozen food.
Some commentators have likened the WHO study to the farcical hunt for weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 Iraq War.
But that analogy is not quite accurate. A closer comparison would be the disastrous Chernobyl nuclear meltdown of 1986.
Soviet Union leaders initially denied there was a problem. When faced with indisputable evidence of the worst nuclear accident in history, they suggested that the problem wasn’t so bad. Only when the worst of the crisis had passed did they ask for international help.
Like the Soviet Union, China is a closed-off, paranoid, one-party state. It has repeated these same mistakes. And we are all now paying the heavy price of Communist secrecy.
It is doubtful that we will ever get to the bottom of what happened in the final months and weeks of 2019 when it seems the virus first appeared. But that must not stop us trying.
We need a full and frank investigation, led by scientists embracing proper scientific methods.
Was this virus man-made or a natural mutation?
Was it transmitted by an animal or did it leak from a lab?
We must get the answers, not so we can attack the Chinese, but for our protection in the future.
There should be strict international rules compelling complete and early notification when dangerous diseases first emerge.
We should consider new rules for research laboratories that deal with dangerous pathogens – and inspection regimes to enforce them.
And, powerful as China is, we must require it to comply if it wishes to have full membership of the world’s trading community.
If we are to prevent the next pandemic, we must start by understanding the true origins of Covid-19. And take whatever action is required.