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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 6 - Intercept’s reporting is actually evidence against a lab leak
Two recent reports on a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to the EcoHealth Alliance — detailing research by the WIV, following FOIA litigation by The Intercept — were misleadingly presented as “new evidence” that U.S.-funded experiments in China “posed biosafety risks” and constituted “high-risk research.” However, it is unclear whether Intercept journalists Sharon Lerner and Mara Hvistendahl understood the significance of the documents they obtained.

Soon after the publication of the first report, Dr. Goldstein argued that The Intercept actually provided evidence against a lab leak because they further confirmed what we have already known since the beginning of the pandemic: that the WIV was only working on “SARS1-like viruses,” with “not a hint of experimental work” on viruses related to SARS-CoV-2.

Virologist Stuart Neil stated on Twitter that there’s “absolutely nothing new here” apart from “disabusing everyone of the notion that animal experiments were carried out at BSL2” because they were carried out in a BSL3 animal facility at the Wuhan University Center for Animal Experiment, and not at the WIV as was previously assumed, which is “entirely appropriate for this work and should provide more than adequate containment.” Dr. Duehr added that the grant also shows us that WIV scientists were doing animal work with SARS-like bat coronaviruses at BSL-3 (not SARS-CoV-1 or 2) (p. 126), which is also how American scientists would handle these bat viruses.

The Intercept also credulously cites biologist and prominent lab-leak booster Alina Chan’s fearmongering and irrelevant speculations that WIV researchers potentially getting bitten by a bat during fieldwork could have led to the pandemic, citing a risk assessment of some of the WIV’s fieldwork:

                   The grant proposal acknowledges some of those dangers: “Fieldwork involves the highest risk of exposure to SARS or other CoVs, while working in caves with high bat density overhead and the potential for fecal dust to be inhaled.”

                   Alina Chan, a molecular biologist at the Broad Institute, said the documents show that EcoHealth Alliance has reason to take the lab-leak theory seriously. “In this proposal, they actually point out that they know how risky this work is. They keep talking about people potentially getting bitten — and they kept records of everyone who got bitten,” Chan said. “Does EcoHealth have those records? And if not, how can they possibly rule out a research-related accident?”

However, it would actually be more worrisome if there were no risk assessments for fieldwork to cite at all. Dr. Neil ridiculed Dr. Chan on Twitter for criticizing scientists for writing “a proper risk assessment” for fieldwork “after all the accusations of unsafe working.” Dr. Perlman stated that scientists “have to write risk assessments for their work” in order to get funded and that it was “the right thing to do.

But perhaps more importantly, citing Dr. Chan’s speculations about the pandemic originating from a bat bite is proof that neither she nor The Intercept’s journalists are aware of basic information about SARS-CoV-2 being a respiratory virus.

In order for that scenario to have any basis, SARS-CoV-2 would also have to be a bloodborne pathogen because the virus from an infected animal bite would pierce the skin and enter the bloodstream, but there is no evidence of SARS-CoV-2 being a bloodborne pathogen. Dr. Rasmussen pointed out that there is no known case of anyone contracting a sarbecovirus like SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 from an animal bite, and that while it is “theoretically possible,” it does not actually happen in real life because, as the FDA’s own website confirms, respiratory viruses generally aren’t known to spread via blood-mediated transmission. Dr. Perlman agreed with Rasmussen’s statements and told me that if he were bitten by a bat during fieldwork, he’d “worry about rabies,” not SARS-CoV-2.

It’s also unclear why Dr. Chan is still repeating her baseless claims when Dr. Rasmussen had already criticized her “inexperience with virology” for speculating that it’s “plausible” for humans to be infected by a mouse-adapted strain of coronavirus if lab workers were bitten by mice back in January.

Perhaps The Intercept would not have presented their documents in a way that promotes the lab-leak theory despite it being evidence of the opposite, or published Dr. Chan’s embarrassing speculations, had they sought out other scientists who could have helped them understand their material. But the only scientists asked to opine on the significance of their documents in their bad-faith report were lab-leak boosters like Richard Ebright and Alina Chan.

A second Intercept article cited virologist Jesse Bloom’s opinion that the WIV “creating chimeras of SARS-related bat coronaviruses that are thought to pose high risk to humans entails unacceptable risks.” However, the virus being discussed in the article is WIV1, which hasn’t been shown to cause disease in humans, which is why Dr. Perlman stated that he thinks it’s “not a risk” to study it and that some of the titles of Dr. Baric’s papers on the virus, like “SARS-like WIV1-CoV poised for human emergence,” may have given the “misleading impression” that it was. Dr. Duehr also agreed that it isn’t a risk to study a SARS-like virus like WIV1, and told me:

                        The chimeric experiments that Bloom says we should not be doing, are how we find out whether it would pose a risk to humans. He’s assuming that we know the virus is high risk before doing them.”

Dr. Rasmussen disagreed with Dr. Bloom’s personal assessment of the WIV1 experiments and questioned why he thinks he should be the sole arbiter of whether the experiments posed an “unacceptable risk,” when the WIV’s work is subject to external oversight (which is how it was FOIA-ed), and showed that WIV scientists aren’t reckless and don’t singlehandedly decide what is an acceptable risk or not.


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