A team of scientists has demonstrated that the pandemic virus is “particularly well suited to infect humans”, raising new questions about whether its origins were natural or could have occurred in a laboratory.
Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, one of the top vaccine researchers at the head of the Australian team, said the virus was “not typical of normal zoonosis”. [animal to human] infectious “because it appeared with the” exceptional “ability to enter the human body from the first
He said the virus should have emerged from an animal through “an abnormal event in nature”, but the possibility that it had leaked from a laboratory could not be excluded.
Petrovsky, a professor of medicine at Flinders University in Adelaide, is leading a biotechnology research unit that will begin human trials of a Covid-19 vaccine next month.
“I have never seen a zoonotic virus that has behaved this way before,” he said.
A team of scientists has produced evidence that the pandemic virus is “specially adapted to infect humans”
He told The Mail on Sunday that new viruses passing through animals normally get stronger when they adapt to human hosts, but for unexplained reasons, this new coronavirus seems perfectly suited to infect humans without needing to evolve.
He pointed out the “ coincidence ” that the most closely related known viruses were being studied in a laboratory in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the pandemic broke out, and insisted that the possibility of such a distant leak be- it should not be ignored when searching. for its origin.
“The implications may not be good for scientists or world politics, but just because the answers can cause problems, we cannot run away from them,” he added. “There is currently no evidence of a leak but enough circumstantial data to worry us. This remains a possibility until it is excluded. “
Professor Petrovsky went further than any other expert by raising the idea that the virus had escaped from one of the two research laboratories for bat viruses in Wuhan.
Richard Ebright, one of the world’s best biosafety experts, also told the newspaper that the chances of this new virus containing such unusual and naturally occurring characteristics were “possible – but unlikely”.
Ebright, professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology were creating chimeric coronaviruses (new hybrid microorganisms) and were seeking funding to test their capacity to infect human cells while using procedures that leave no sign of human manipulation.
Asked about the risks of flight, he replied: “There is certainly a possibility. But there is nothing to say a high probability. “
Last week, the MoS released details of a key study questioning China’s claims that the pandemic emerged from an animal market in Wuhan in December. The researchers were “surprised” to find the virus “already pre-adapted to human transmission”, contrasting its stability with another coronavirus which evolved rapidly by spreading around the planet during the 2002-04 SARS epidemic. Their findings are supported by the Australian team’s study of the “cutting edge protein” that links Sars-CoV-2 – the new coronavirus strain that causes the disease – to cells in the human body. The research, published on the Cornell University website but not yet peer reviewed, used computer modeling to test the ability of the advanced protein to bind to humans and 12 possible animal hosts.
He found that the ability to bind to human cells far exceeded its ability in other species. “This indicates that Sars-CoV-2 is a highly adapted human pathogen,” he said, “raising questions as to whether it appeared in nature by a fortuitous event or whether its origins lie elsewhere.”
Richard Ebright, professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (photo) were creating chimeric coronaviruses (new hybrid microorganisms)
Professor Petrovsky said it seemed “very unusual” that an “exquisitely human adaptive virus” had suddenly passed from an animal host to man last year.
“It is either a remarkable coincidence or a sign of human intervention,” he said. “It is possible that the virus was a chance event and it turns out that humans were the perfect host.
“But we don’t have the proof because nobody found this virus in an intermediate host animal [for example pangolin] again.
“No one can say that a laboratory leak is not a possibility.”
He said scientists were reluctant to discuss the possibility of botched lab experiments or leaks, as any backlash could result in research restrictions and threaten crucial research. However, he added, it was vital to find out the source of the virus.
Professor Petrovsky said that if Sars-CoV-2 were a natural event, another related virus could re-emerge from the same source again with even more devastating consequences.
“Next time, the death rate could be much worse,” he warned.
He also pointed to the “furin cleavage site”, which allows the advanced protein to bind to cells in human tissue, including the lungs, liver and small intestine.
An American biomedical expert, who declined to be named, said that there was no direct evidence to support the idea that the virus was created or released by a laboratory.
Previous studies have noted the effectiveness of this cleavage method, which does not exist in the most similar coronaviruses – although researchers in 2009 modified the SARS virus to introduce a furin cleavage site in one position similar to Sars-CoV-2 and found that it increased the infectivity of the virus.
In the latest study released on Friday, three German scientists pointed out how essential this cleavage site is for infection of human lung cells. An American biomedical expert, who did not wish to be named, said that there was no direct evidence to support the idea that the virus had been created or released by a laboratory, although “the location of the acquired furin mutation is quite surprising ”.
Another leading researcher said that a member of his team “became a little pale when he looked at it.”
An article published earlier this year by Yong-Zhen Zhang, the Chinese disease expert who published the first genome sequence for Sars-CoV-2, said it was ‘arguably the most important difference’ ‘between the new virus and its closest known relative, which was derived from a bat by researchers from Wuhan.
Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, said the “body of evidence” suggested it was a natural virus. “You would see signatures if it was an artificial virus and I see no evidence of its engineering,” he said.
Last week, Chinese health officials confirmed that they have ordered certain laboratories to destroy coronavirus samples to ensure that work is not carried out in units that do not meet global biosafety rules .
Wuhan virus lab approved by EU Brexit chief Michel Barnier in 2004 – despite warnings from French intelligence that China’s bad reputation for biosafety could lead to catastrophic leak
By Glen Owen for Sunday Mail
The construction of the Chinese laboratory at the center of growing suspicion over the source of the Covid-19 pandemic has been approved by Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier, despite warnings from French intelligence services.
Barnier – currently involved in acrimonious negotiations with the UK on a post-Brexit trade agreement – was the French foreign minister when he gave the green light to start work at the Virology Institute of Wuhan in 2004, as part of a joint agreement with the Chinese.
The move came despite strong opposition from French diplomatic and security advisers, who argued that China’s reputation for poor biosecurity could lead to a catastrophic leak.
They also warned that Paris could lose control of the project and even suggested that Beijing could exploit the technology to manufacture weapons of biological warfare.
Eleven years later, while the laboratory was preparing to open, the French architects of the project complained of having been, as feared, ousted by the Chinese Communist government.
Barnier (photo) – currently involved in acrimonious negotiations with the UK on a post-Brexit trade agreement – was the French foreign minister when he gave the green light to start work on the Institute of Wuhan virology in 2004
Mr. Barnier’s role in the creation of the Wuhan Institute can be revealed in the context of a Mail on Sunday survey on French connections to the laboratory.
The site was researching coronaviruses when the epidemic started in the city last November.
An increasing number of scientific and security experts are now questioning the Chinese government’s insistence that the virus originated in a wildlife market in Wuhan, Beijing’s refusal to allow an international investigation does not making matters worse.
Last week, the Mail on Sunday revealed that experts now believe that the coronavirus was put on the market by a person already suffering from the disease.
Biologists who have carried out a historical study say they are “surprised” to find that the virus was “already pre-adapted to human transmission”.
Jacques Chirac, the French president at the time of the agreement, asked for the creation of the Wuhan Institute after the 2003 SARS epidemic, which affected 26 countries and caused more than 8,000 cases and 774 deaths. Mr. Chirac, with his pro-Beijing Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, promised French funding and expertise in exchange for a share of intellectual copyright in the laboratory’s discoveries.
Jacques Chirac, the French president at the time of the agreement, asked for the creation of the Wuhan Institute (photo) after the 2003 SARS epidemic, which affected 26 countries and caused more than 8,000 cases and 774 deaths
They argued that a Franco-Chinese collaboration could develop effective – and lucrative – vaccines to prevent the recurrence of a deadly viral pandemic.
France is a world leader in virus research, but the Chirac government has also seen the deal as a way to forge stronger trade ties with China than its western rivals.
According to an article in the French newspaper Le Figaro, institutions such as the Directorate General for External Security, the French equivalent of MI6, have repeatedly expressed concern about the lack of international control over Chinese laboratories and the problems of “transparency”.
A source told the newspaper, “What you need to understand is that a P4 [high-level bio-security] laboratory is like a nuclear reprocessing plant. It’s a bacteriological atomic bomb.
“The viruses tested are extremely dangerous – wetsuits, decontamination chambers, etc. must be followed to the letter.”
As part of the agreement, up to 50 French scientists were to travel to Wuhan to help the Chinese manage the laboratory properly – but they never went there.
The Wuhan Institute became operational in January 2018 and coincided with a visit to Beijing by current French President Emmanuel Macron and Mr. Raffarin, who was appointed “special envoy to China”
Alain Merieux, the French billionaire who contributed to the creation of the Wuhan laboratory in partnership with his Institut Mérieux in Lyon, abandoned the project in 2015, declaring: “I renounce the co-chairmanship of [the] P4 [laboratory], a Chinese tool. It belongs to them, even if it was developed with technical assistance from France. “
According to Le Figaro, a diplomat familiar with the transaction added: “We knew the risks involved and we thought that the Chinese would control everything and quickly expel us from the project.
“We thought that providing this cutting-edge technology to a country with an endless energy program would risk exposing France in return.”
Their fears were exacerbated in 2015 when China implemented a new “dual-use” technology policy, which allows their armed forces to use any civilian technology for military purposes.
The Wuhan Institute became operational in January 2018 and coincided with a visit to Beijing by current French President Emmanuel Macron and Mr. Raffarin, who was appointed “special envoy to China”.
Last night, a source from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris confirmed that Barnier had helped create the Wuhan Institute when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs as “the hand who signed the document”.
A source from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris confirmed that Barnier had helped set up the Wuhan Institute when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs as “the hand who signed the document”
Barnier, a Gaullist conservative, was Minister of Foreign Affairs for just over a year, from April 2004 to June 2005.
The source said, “The goal was to develop vaccines after the SARS crisis between 2002 and 2004.
“There was a lot of cooperation on a series of issues between France and China at the time, and Michel Barnier was implementing government policy.”
The source added that opposition to the decision came from a number of people, including senior officials from the French security services.
“The issue of biosecurity was certainly a source of concern within agencies, including the DGSE,” said the source.
A security source involved in the case at the time said: “Chinese laboratories did not inspire much confidence, but the government had its own reasons for moving in this direction.”
The World Health Organization hails “ goodwill ambassador ” Peng Liyuan on its website as a singing star … but does not mention that she is the wife of the Chinese president, despite concerns over WHO management of the coronavirus pandemic
By mail the Sunday reporter
Peng Liyuan is listed on the World Health Organization’s website alongside former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker as one of nine “goodwill ambassadors”.
When she was appointed, the then head of WHO praised the “world-renowned voice of the Chinese folk singer and her compassionate heart,” saying that she was “a bright big star with an audience of admirers.” immense and respectful ”.
There was however no mention of the other reason why Peng is so well known – she is the wife of Xi Jinping, President of China and leader of his Communist Party.
Peng Liyuan (photo) is on the World Health Organization website alongside former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker among the nine “goodwill ambassadors”
Peng (right) married Xi (left) in 1987, when he was divorced deputy mayor of Xiamen City
Peng, who holds the rank of major-general in the military, sang in uniform for soldiers after crushing pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square – although state censors sought to erase these images from ‘Internet.
The revelation that the first lady of China played such an important role will fuel pressure on the WHO, which was criticized during the pandemic – sparked by concerns over her current boss’s close relationship with Beijing.
“The definition of goodwill seems to be broad,” said conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs committee. “WHO should choose those who defend the rights of those they are there to serve, not those whose backgrounds leave their engagement in doubt.”
Peng, who joined the People’s Liberation Army in 1980, made himself known on Chinese public television as a singer of syrupy songs praising the Communist Party and the rise of his country.
There was however no mention of the other reason why Peng is so well known – she is the wife of Xi Jinping, President of China and leader of his Communist Party. Pictured: Peng Liyuan’s entry on the WHO website
She married Xi in 1987, when he was divorced deputy mayor of Xiamen City. She was appointed by Margaret Chan, the first head of a United Nations agency in China, who has since joined a key political organ of the Communist Party. Peng was reappointed to WHO by Chan’s successor, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who also tried to hand over one of the posts to Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe before the outrage forced a retirement.
Peng attended influential summits and joined her husband at key UN meetings. She also met with Bill Gates, the billionaire philanthropist who bailed out the WHO after its funding was cut by the United States in anger at its pro-Chinese stance. Donald Trump called the WHO a pipe organ for Beijing’s interests.