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How US media misrepresent the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s laboratories and safety protocols

Even if we were to accept all the accusations against the WIV regarding their alleged subpar safety standards, none of it has any relevance to the Covid-19 pandemic unless it can be shown the WIV possessed SARS-CoV-2 in its lab before the outbreak, and there is no evidence of that.
 
by Joshua Cho 
 
Part 3 - No proof WIV’s BSL-4 lab involved with bioweapons research
 
As confirmed by the release of the full cable, the “new lab” mentioned is the WIV’s BSL-4 laboratory (the highest biosafety level), which first opened in 2018. Many irrelevant speculations have surrounded this BSL-4 facility, as it deals with the most dangerous pathogens, like smallpox and SARS-CoV-1, that cannot be handled at lower biosafety levels.

Journalist Sam Husseini, one of the biggest promoters of the laboratory origin hypothesis, has recounted his suspicions regarding the possibility of the SARS-CoV-2 virus originating from the WIV’s BSL-4 laboratory when he asked a CDC representative about the facility:

                              I asked if it was a “complete coincidence” that the pandemic had started in Wuhan, the only place in China with a declared biosafety level 4 (BSL4) laboratory. BSL4 laboratories have the most stringent safety mechanisms, but handle the most deadly pathogens.

Husseini goes as far as to insinuate that the mere existence of a BSL-4 laboratory is evidence of China’s biowarfare program, largely based on his assertion that the concepts of “biodefense” and “biowarfare” are “largely indistinguishable:”

                            “Biodefense” implies tacit biowarfare, breeding more dangerous pathogens for the alleged purpose of finding a way to fight them….

                     The U.S. and China each have dual-use biowarfare/biodefense programs. China has major facilities at Wuhan — a biosafety level 4 lab and a biosafety level 2 lab. There are leaks from labs.


The talking point that the distinction between concepts like “biowarfare” and “biodefense” is merely a “rhetorical sleight of hand” is a popular assertion among journalists promoting the lab-leak theory’s legitimacy, as journalist Glenn Greenwald also claimed something similar:

                             But ultimately, that distinction barely matters. For both offensive and defensive bioweapons research, scientists must create, cultivate, manipulate and store non-natural viruses or infectious bacteria in their labs, whether to study them for weaponization or for vaccines.

These claims by journalists with no formal science background struck me as far-fetched, so I contacted microbiologist Stanley Perlman at the University of Iowa, virologist Stephen Goldstein at the University of Utah, and virologist James Duehr at the University of Pittsburgh, to check these assertions. Both Perlman and Goldstein simply rejected the assertion that “biowarfare” and “biodefense” are “largely indistinguishable” concepts, with Perlman stating that the claim “doesn’t make sense.” Duehr responded:

                             Saying that there is no difference between “biodefense” and “biowarfare” is like saying there is no difference between developing bullet-proof vests and armor-piercing bullets. Sure, knowing how one works helps you develop better versions of the other, but conflating them is really missing the point.

Australian virologist Danielle Anderson, the only foreign scientist to work in the WIV’s BSL-4 laboratory until November 2019, has attested that claiming “the Wuhan Institute of Virology as ‘one of only two bioweapons research labs in all of China’ is simply false,” undermining Husseini’s claim that the WIV’s BSL-4 lab is evidence of China’s alleged dual-use “biowarfare” program. Critics of Husseini’s allegation that the WIV is engaged in “biowarfare” research — one being Claudia Chaufan, director of the graduate program of health policy at York University — have punctured his logic on several grounds. Chaufan stated:

                             That linguistic sleight of hand in particular, the equivalence of biowarfare and biodefense, is factually not true, and is certainly not true in one very obvious way regarding the Wuhan lab: If there were a biowarfare arms race happening around the world, the countries putatively at war with each other — the U.S. and China — would not share or allow access to their labs to a competitor state, collaborate, or exchange their research and researchers.

                            But the fact is the U.S. was given wide access to the Wuhan Labs — not just scientists but also U.S. State Department functionaries — as were French scientists.  The Wuhan lab solicited U.S. aid and funding. (Husseini seems to believe that biowarfare labs openly solicit funding from other countries). Scientists in the U.S. and China collaborated and worked together collegially, trained each other, shared information, published papers and still maintain some relations.

It is true that the WIV has carried out unspecified classified research projects, and has heightened secrecy due to the inherent national security risks of handling dangerous pathogens. However, it’s also true that initial reports explained why WIV officials claimed that “transparency is the basis” for the BSL-4 lab, and why the WIV frequently collaborates with foreign scientists and openly publishes its research — further undermining the allegation that bioweapons research is being conducted there. According to the scientific journal Nature, when the BSL-4 lab was getting cleared to operate:

                              It will 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. “It will be a key node in the global biosafety-lab network,” says lab director Yuan Zhiming…

                            The opportunities for international collaboration, meanwhile, will aid the genetic analysis and epidemiology of emergent diseases.

The preventive (rather than militaristic) nature of the WIV’s research is also corroborated by the judgments of U.S. diplomats in the Post’s unredacted State Department cable when it described how the 2002-03 SARS outbreak “convinced China to prioritize international cooperation for infectious disease control:”

                              This state-of-the-art facility is designed for prevention and control research on diseases that require the highest level of biosafety and biosecurity containment
.

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