Nicholas Wade on Lab Leak

Last week, former New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade appeared before the House Oversight Committee to testify on the origin of the Covid virus.

Nicholas Wade

“Some say it doesn’t matter where the virus came from because the pandemic is what it is,” Wade told the Committee. “To the contrary, it matters a great deal because the two conjectured origins require widely different responses.”

“If the virus came from nature, virologists can carry on bringing wild viruses back into their laboratories and continue to manipulate them in the hope of preparing for new epidemics. China can assert the pandemic was a natural phenomenon for which its government bears no responsibility. The national media can say it was right all along to dismiss lab leak as a conspiracy theory and that no self-scrutiny is required.”

“If the SARS2 virus (also known as SARS-CoV-2) leaked from a laboratory, on the other hand, the Chinese authorities should be held accountable for the pain they have inflicted on the world’s population. Enhancing a virus’s properties – so-called gain of function research – should probably be halted immediately until a functioning regulatory system has been devised, different from the one now in place. Journalists and editors would doubtless wish to ask how they let the wool be pulled over their eyes for so long and so effectively.”

Wade is author of the book – Where Covid Came From (Encounter Books, 2021)

Where did Covid come from?

“From a lab,” Wade told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview earlier this month. “We don’t have definitive proof of that because the Chinese won’t let us in to see what viruses they were working on. But there is substantial evidence that the Chinese scientists at the Wuhan Institute were working on coronaviruses. They were genetically manipulating them. We know that because that’s in their grant descriptions from the National Institutes of Health which was funding them.” 

“We know that they were actually planning to insert the very characteristic feature of SARS-2 –  it’s a genetic element called a furin cleavage site. That makes the SARS-2 different from all of the other viruses in its family. And the Wuhan Institute applied to the Defense Department for a grant, in which they say – we will insert the furin cleavage site into coronaviruses. Lo and behold, a year later, SARS-2 appears on the scene. It’s got the furin cleavage site. And it’s at the exact position on its genome where the Wuhan scientists say in their grant they plan to put it.”

“That’s pretty strong evidence pointing to lab leak, it seems to me.”

How many people have died from Covid?

“I believe the current total is six million globally. And there are something like 600 million cases of the disease.”

What about the United States?

“I believe it’s one million and counting.”

If it were a lab leak and the leak came from criminal recklessness, who would be responsible for these deaths?

“The Chinese authorities. I don’t know whether you can sue a sovereign government. But I guess you can try. It seems to me that the Chinese government would bear the authority for having conducted unsafe experiments on its premises.”

“At least some of the research at the Wuhan Institute, maybe research that led to the SARS-2 virus, or maybe not, was supported by the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. I don’t know whether you can argue that the United States bears some responsibility for what happened.”

“I guess you could argue that questions of lab safety are the responsibility of people at the local level. If there is an accident at a lab in North Carolina, we don’t hold the NIH responsible. We hold the lab in North Carolina responsible for not having followed appropriate safety procedures. Maybe there is no legal culpability. But at least there is a moral implication here that the NIH was supervising this research and funding it and allowing it to take place without ensuring that the conditions were fully safe.”

“The NIH did not fund the lab directly, although it could have. But for some reason, perhaps because it attracted less supervision, it funded the Wuhan lab through the EcoHealth Alliance, the principal investigator – that means they were primarily responsible for whatever was done with the research money.”

How do you describe your politics?

“Neutral, independent or nonexistent. I’ve been a science writer all of my career. I’m somewhat uninterested in politics. I was dismayed that my article on lab leak was taken up by the right and completely ignored by the left. I would have much preferred that both sides give it equal attention and look at it as a scientific issue, which it is.”

You have not appeared in mainstream liberal news outlets. But you have appeared on right leaning news outlets.

“That’s right. But that’s no way my desire. But it happened because of the absurd politicization of this topic.”

Friends and family members saw me reading your book last week. And they later emailed a story from NPR news titled – What does the science say about the origin of the SARS-2 pandemic?

And NPR reports that “at the end of the day, the origin of the pandemic is also a scientific question. Virologists who study pandemic origins are much less divided than the U.S. intelligence community. They say there is ‘very convincing’ data and ‘overwhelming evidence’ pointing to an animal origin.”

“In particular, scientists published two extensive, peer-reviewed papers in Science in July 2022, offering the strongest evidence to date that the COVID-19 pandemic originated in animals at a market in Wuhan, China,” NPR reported. “Specifically, they conclude that the coronavirus most likely jumped from a caged wild animal into people at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where a huge COVID-19 outbreak began in December 2019.”

What’s your response to that NPR report?

“Well, it’s a present fantasy for the virologists to show that they are united in arguing this was not a lab leak. Because if it was indeed a virus that escaped from a lab, the virologists are going to have a hammer coming down on all this type of genetic engineering they’ve been doing. It is wildly irresponsible to enhance the infectiousness of a virus. And that’s why this kind of experiment is called gain of function. The virologists do not want to have regulations piled on top of them, but that is exactly what’s going to happen if we decide that lab leak is the likely origin of this virus.” 

“These studies that were reported recently by NPR have a large number of holes in them and do not hold water. The basic argument is, if you look at all cases reported by the Chinese authorities from the Wuhan market, and wet market, which sold wild animal meat, all the cases clustered around the market, even the cases a little outside the market, therefore the market must have been the epicenter of the epidemic and therefore it must have started in the market and therefore it must have started from an animal. That’s the argument. And it’s all based on the principle, not an unreasonable one, that the previous SARS epidemic called SARS-1 which took place in 2002. happened in just this way.”

“The SARS-1 virus spread from bats to animals called civets, which were sold in these wet markets and spread from civets to people. That’s how the SARS-1 epidemic got started.” 

“So it’s perfectly reasonable to ask if the SARS-2 epidemic got started in the same way. Now the Chinese authorities, when the SARS-2 virus first arose, they thought they had the same situation on their hands. So all the cases of the new epidemic that they collected, they had a criterion – you have to be near the market. If you have the symptoms of this disease but you don’t live near the market, we are not counting you.” 

“All the cases compiled by the Chinese were by definition cases that took place in or near the market. So then Michael Worobey comes along with his big splashy paper in Science and all the newspapers who agree with the idea that lab leak is a conspiracy theory – comes on and says – look at all these cases centered around the market.” 

“Well they centered around the market, not because the disease started there, but because that’s how the Chinese collected their statistics. It’s called ascertainment bias.”  

“The second problem with this theory is that everyone agrees that the market was what they called a super spreading event. Lots of people had been infected in the market once the disease had been brought in to the market. The question was – was it brought in by an infected person or by an infected animal?” 

“If it was brought in by an infected animal, you need to find an infected animal. You need to find one of the animals in the market that had the virus. And the answer is the Chinese authorities found no animals that were infected.”

Given the stakes, you would think the Chinese would find an animal.

“Absolutely. They had every interest in doing so.”

If they wanted to infect an animal deliberately could they have done that and say, here’s the animal?

“Yes, they could have done that. There is an article by George Gao, who was the head of the Chinese CDC. It came out at the same time as the Worobey article. It said – we do not think the virus started in the wet market.”

NPR last month goes on to report: ‘Neither of the Science papers provide the smoking gun — that is, an animal infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus at a market. But they come close. They provide photographic evidence of wild animals such as raccoon dogs and a red fox, which can be infected with and shed SARS-CoV-2, sitting in cages in the market in late 2019. What’s more, the caged animals are shown in or near a stall where scientists found SARS-CoV-2 virus on a number of surfaces, including on cages, carts and machines that process animals after they are slaughtered at the market.”

Is that convincing to you?

“It doesn’t even come close to being scientific evidence. There are animals in the wet market.  The purpose of the wet market is to sell animals. Of course there are animals there. The question is – was any one of them infected by SARS-2? And there is no evidence that this was the case. The Chinese looked and found nothing.”

“Therefore it’s much more likely that an infected person introduced the virus into the wet market, especially as the epidemic almost certainly started in a silent way several months before, probably in September 2019. And it spread slowly among the population without coming to anyone’s attention. That’s the way of epidemics like this, until finally it got to the wet market and all of these people got infected.”

“So, all of these cases that Worobey is talking about became infected in late December 2019 and early January 2020, when the epidemic almost certainly was far advanced. That means that a person was much more likely to be a vector of the virus into the market, not an animal.”

What do you know about the early deaths at the Wuhan lab?

“This was from an intelligence report. We don’t know where it came from, perhaps from someone hacking into hospital records. The initial report was that three people at the Wuhan Institute around September 2019 had come down with very serious symptoms that could have been the flu, or in retrospect could have been SARS-2.” 

“The recent Department of Energy reassessment that lab leak was the more likely explanation – I’ve heard that that was based on this particular intelligence information getting a little more precise, that the three people who got sick were working in a coronavirus manipulation lab, but I don’t know that for sure.”

[For the complete q/a format Interview with Nicholas Wade, 37 Corporate Crime Reporter 12(13), March 13, 2023, print edition only.]

Copyright © Corporate Crime Reporter
In Print 48 Weeks A Year

Built on Notes Blog Core
Powered by WordPress