What really happened — not just in Wuhan — to spark the COVID-19 pandemic

Oct 13, 2021
Covid virus feature
(Image: Unsplash)

After months of advance publicity, book extracts and a Sky News documentary, most of us already know where Sharri Markson and News Corp believe the COVID-19 pandemic began.

What Really Happened in Wuhan exposes the cover-ups and deceptions that preceded and followed China’s announcement of the novel coronavirus in December 2019. Markson rejects the explanations advanced in early 2020, including by Australian ministers and scientists, of its origins in nature. She proposes the “lab-leak” theory which is now widely accepted as more likely, because the unique structure of SARS-CoV-2 can only be scientifically engineered.

In her book, Markson claims the credit for revealing that the virus was created in the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), from which it escaped in the northern autumn of 2019. She shows that the US government funded the Gain of Function (GoF) research at WIV which could enable a benign virus in bats to infect and be transmitted by humans, and produce a pandemic.

Markson was not alone: by February 2020 other journalists and researchers were already tracing the long involvement of the US, Britain, Australia, and France in GOF research, along with China’s part in it. Several Australian universities and the CSIRO in Geelong had collaborated for years with Dr Shi Zhengli, the “bat woman” at WIV. France supported the construction of a high-security laboratory at WIV. In Winnipeg, Canadians worked with Chinese virologists who repeatedly transferred samples back to Wuhan.

The American Association of Physicians and Surgeons says unnnamed virologists have been doing GoF research for 20 years.

Only in recent years have “seamless” cutting and pasting techniques been used to leave no evidence of manipulation of the genome, making the resulting virus a potential secret bioweapon.

These methods were developed by Dr Shi and Dr Ralph S. Baric of the University of North Carolina. Theirs were the only institutes to report to a conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in 2011 that they were doing GoF research. But in January 2021 Chris Ford, then heading Arms Control and International Security in the State Department, admitted that “the US Army has been deeply involved in virus research in the United States for many years”.

President Barack Obama’s ban on GoF research was lifted by President Donald Trump and Dr Antony Fauci in 2017, and his National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) continued its US-government-funded collaboration with Chinese virologists. Multi-million dollar grants for the EcoHealth Alliance, headed by Briton Peter Daszak, were restored in 2020.

Daszak declared in a letter to The Lancet in February 2020 that he and his co-signatories “strongly condemned” the lab-leak theory, and said they had “no competing interests” in it. But patents on their work were profitable, as an American researcher, Dr David E. Martin, revealed in “The Fauci/COVID-19 Dossier“.

The existence of a secret biological arms race had been raised in 2018, when 25 US laboratories were reported to be participants in a $2.1 billion program run by the wonderfully-named Defence Threat Reduction Agency. In June, Max Parry wrote in Global Research that the pandemic revived fears that the US might be developing “ethnic bioweapons” for use against Russia.

It would not be surprising if Russia did the same in response. In July 2021 the House Appropriations Committee banned US funding of WIV, together with GoF research in Russia, Iran, and amazingly, North Korea.

Markson wasn’t able to go to China to investigate the WIV or other similar institutes. So her claim to know what really happened there is risky.

Danielle Anderson, an Australian associate of Dr Shi, who worked at WIV in 2019, has since said she saw no bats, and no GoF research. But the interviews given to Markson by Mike Pompeo and State Department officials, and by Wei Jingsheng, a Chinese defector, delivered a consistent “blame China” message.

They reinforced it by giving Markson a Chinese publication from 2002, which included a chapter by a retired American Air Force Colonel, and referred to the coronavirus as a potential biological weapon (BW). Her interviews with Trump and Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, delivered more counter-intelligence than detail about BW in the US and UK.

What happened outside China is the other unfilled gap in Markson’s narrative.

In July 2019, 15 Americans died of a novel virus at an aged-care home in Virginia. Nearby at Fort Detrick, Maryland, the US Army Medical Research institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) was suddenly closed and its director dismissed, over what were reported as “inventory deficiencies and biosafety hazards”.

The institute went off-line for a time — just before the database of viruses, samples, and sequences at WIV was taken down on September 12, 2019. In October, American competitors at the World Military Games in Wuhan became ill, and returned with Covid-like symptoms, as did Italian, French, Swedish and Brazilian participants. The US team left for China and returned via Seattle, where the first American infection was detected.

All that may seem circumstantial, as Markson’s early reports also did to some.

The US foreign service investigators, she reports, were warned against opening a “can of worms”. But the CIA and the State Department apparently contrived in June 2020 to get Australia’s foreign and defence ministers — quite superfluously — to demand an independent international inquiry into the Chinese origins of the coronavirus, incurring retaliation from Beijing.

The result was advantageous for American exporters to China. If the surreptitious US motive was to demonise China and let Australia pay the price, it worked. If Markson’s book project had the same result, so much the better.

Markson’s reliance on US sources for the argument that China deliberately suppressed all information about the outbreak ignores the proper steps taken by Beijing to inform American authorities and the World Health Organization, once the coronavirus was identified.

If Chinese officials suppressed information, suspicion also falls on the US, where scientists acted unethically, and foreign service investigators, as she reports, were warned against opening a “can of worms”.

If Americans knew what was happening in China in September 2019, as a Republican Congressional report now claims, what activities in the US did they know about even earlier? China’s refusal to allow international inspectors into labs in Wuhan is seen as evidence of suppression, but would Americans allow Chinese to inspect Fort Detrick? If not, why not?

Biological weapons are wrapped in secrecy, lies, manipulation, and money. There is much more to know about this pandemic than Markson tells us.

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