“All You Need Is a Pair of Eyes”

(p. 1) MUNICH — Dr. Camilla Rothe was about to leave for dinner when the government laboratory called with the surprising test result. Positive. It was Jan. 27 [2020]. She had just discovered Germany’s first case of the new coronavirus.

But the diagnosis made no sense. Her patient, a businessman from a nearby auto parts company, could have been infected by only one person: a colleague visiting from China. And that colleague should not have been contagious.

The visitor had seemed perfectly healthy during her stay in Germany. No coughing or sneezing, no signs of fatigue or fever during two days of long meetings. She told colleagues that she had started feeling ill after the flight back to China. Days later, she tested positive for the coronavirus.

. . .

Dr. Rothe and her colleagues were among the first to warn the world. But even as evidence accumulated from other scientists, leading health officials expressed unwavering confidence that symptomless spreading was not important.

In the days and weeks to come, politicians, public health officials and rival academics disparaged or ignored the Munich team. Some actively worked to undermine the warnings at a crucial moment, as the disease was spreading unnoticed in French churches, Italian soccer stadiums and Austrian ski bars. A cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, would become a deadly harbinger of symptomless spreading. Continue reading ““All You Need Is a Pair of Eyes””

Ridley Quotes Petrovsky: “We Can’t Exclude the Possibility That This Came From a Laboratory Experiment”

(p. C3) What about the controversial claim that the virus may have originated in a laboratory? Both Ralph Baric’s team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Shi Zhengli’s team at the Wuhan Institute of Virology have been working on SARS-like coronaviruses and testing their ability to infect human cells. They have for some years reported successful experiments in which they created new strains of the virus by manipulating the spike proteins that are now the focus of discovering the origin of SARS-CoV-2, and their research has included inserting furin cleavage sites.

The two teams made these so-called chimeric viruses in order to understand what makes viruses more or less dangerous and in the hope of being ready to protect people against a future SARS epidemic. In 2015 they published a joint experiment in which they combined parts of one mouse-adapted SARS-like coronavirus with a spike gene from a SARS-like coronavirus derived from Chinese bats.

In reporting their results, they expressed caution about continuing such risky experiments: “On the basis of these findings, scientific review panels may deem similar studies building chimeric viruses based on circulating strains too risky to pursue, as increased pathogenicity in mammalian models cannot be excluded.” They added: “The potential to prepare for and mitigate future outbreaks must be weighed against the risk of creating more dangerous pathogens.”

Nikolai Petrovsky and colleagues at Flinders University in Australia have found that SARS-CoV-2 has a higher affinity for human receptors than for any other animal species they tested, including pangolins and horseshoe bats. He suggests that this could have happened if the virus was being cultured in human cells, adding that “We can’t exclude the possibility that this came from a laboratory experiment.”

For the full commentary, see:

Matt Ridley. “So Where Did the Virus Come From?” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 30, 2020): C3.

(Note: I corrected a misspelling of Petrovsky’s name.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was the date May 29, 2020 and has the same title as the print version.)

The manuscript co-authored by Petrovsky, and mentioned above, is reported in:

Sakshi Piplani, Puneet Kumar Singh, David A. Winkler, Nikolai Petrovsky. “In Silico Comparison of Spike Protein-Ace2 Binding Affinities across Species; Significance for the Possible Origin of the Sars-Cov-2 Virus.” May 13, 2020.

Honoring the Heroes of Hong Kong and Tiananmen Square

I posted the entry below to Facebook on Thursday, June 4, 2020, the 31st anniversary of the day when the Chinese Communists massacred those protesting for democracy and freedom in Tiananmen Square.

At 8 PM I lit a candle to honor the heroes of Hong Kong who dared to gather today to honor the heroes of Tiananmen Square. #6431truth #HongKongFreedom

Posted by Arthur Diamond on Thursday, June 4, 2020

Matt Ridley Suspects Wuhan Lab Innocent of Creating Covid-19

(p. C5) RaTG13 is the name, rank and serial number of an individual horseshoe bat of the species Rhinolophus affinis, or rather of a sample of its feces collected in 2013 in a cave in Yunnan, China. The sample was collected by hazmat-clad scientists from the Institute of Virology in Wuhan that year. Stored away and forgotten until January this year, the sample from the horseshoe bat contains the virus that causes Covid-19.

. . .

. . . analysis shows that the most recent common ancestor of the human virus and the RaTG13 virus lived at least 40 years ago. So it is unlikely that the cave in Yunnan (a thousand miles from Wuhan) is where the first infection happened or that the culprit bat was taken from that cave to Wuhan to be eaten or experimented on.

Rather, it is probable that somewhere much closer to Wuhan, there is another colony of bats carrying the same kind of virus. Unless other evidence emerges, it thus looks like a horrible coincidence that China’s Institute of Virology, a high-security laboratory where human cells were being experimentally infected with bat viruses, happens to be in Wuhan, the origin of today’s pandemic.

. . .

Bats are sold in markets and supplied directly to restaurants throughout China and southeast Asia, but no direct evidence of their sale in Wuhan’s wet market has come to light. Also, horseshoe bats, which are much smaller than the tastier fruit bats, are generally not among the species eaten. The significance of the Yunnan cave sample is that it shows the bat virus didn’t need to recombine with viruses in other species in a market to be infectious to people. The role of the wet markets may be that other animals get infected there and produce much higher loads of virus than the bats would, amplifying the infection.

For the full commentary, see:

Matt Ridley. “The Bats Behind the Pandemic.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 11, 2020): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was the date April 9, 2020 and has the same title as the print version.)

China Sent Fewer Masks to World Than Claimed

(p. A6) This spring, Beijing energetically promoted its exports and overseas donations of medical supplies and asked foreign politicians to thank China publicly for the shipments. But a study released on Tuesday [May 6, 2020] found that the shipments were slow to get started.

. . .

The tonnage of China’s net exports of respirators and surgical masks was down 5 percent in March from the same month a year earlier, according to an analysis by Chad Bown, a trade specialist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

The analysis, based on Beijing’s own customs data, also found that China cut way back on exports of medical supplies in January and February and stepped up imports in those months.

For the full story, see:

“Top British Doctor Quits After Violating Lockdown.” The New York Times (Wednesday, May 6, 2020): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated May 21 [sic], 2020 and has the title “Top U.K. Scientist Resigns Over Coronavirus Distancing Violation.” The print and online articles are a series of brief articles that are only related by being on some aspect of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the online version, all of the brief articles must be searched-for under the name of the top brief article.)

Chinese Scientists “Withdrew” Research Paper That Noted Proximity of Shi Bat Lab to Wuhan Market

(p. A11) For the past 15 years, Chinese scientist Shi Zhengli has warned the world—in English, Chinese and French—that bats harbor coronaviruses that pose serious risks to human health.

The flying mammals are a likely culprit in the pandemic now sweeping the globe, and Dr. Shi and her laboratories in Wuhan, where the outbreak was first identified, have attracted suspicion.

. . .

Dr. Shi’s experience—and her large set of reference material—helped her determine that the new coronavirus loose in Wuhan had most likely come from a bat. In fact, a sample her team collected in Yunnan province in 2013 was about 96% identical to the genetic sequence of the virus that causes Covid-19.

All of that has raised questions about whether the virus could have somehow escaped from one of Dr. Shi’s labs and infected Wuhan’s population.

In a February [2020] research paper, Chinese scientists pointed out that the Wuhan market, where the coronavirus began spreading late last year, was close to her labs as well as those of another local scientist who has worked on bats at the Wuhan Municipal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The authors withdrew their paper as “speculation” after it got widespread international notice.

For the full story, see:

James T. Areddy. “‘Bat Woman’ Draws Scrutiny.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, April 22, 2020): A11.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 21, 2020, and has the title “China Bat Expert Says Her Wuhan Lab Wasn’t Source of New Coronavirus.”)

Chinese Communists Censor Academic Articles on Origins of Covid-19

(p. A21) Beijing has claimed that the virus originated in a Wuhan “wet market,” where wild animals were sold. But evidence to counter this theory emerged in January [2020]. Chinese researchers reported in the Lancet Jan. 24 that the first known cases had no contact with the market, and Chinese state media acknowledged the finding. There’s no evidence the market sold bats or pangolins, the animals from which the virus is thought to have jumped to humans. And the bat species that carries it isn’t found within 100 miles of Wuhan.

Wuhan has two labs where we know bats and humans interacted. One is the Institute of Virology, eight miles from the wet market; the other is the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, barely 300 yards from the market.

Both labs collect live animals to study viruses. Their researchers travel to caves across China to capture bats for this purpose. Chinese state media released a minidocumentary in mid-December following a team of Wuhan CDC researchers collecting viruses from bats in caves. The researchers fretted openly about the risk of infection.

. . .

While the Chinese government denies the possibility of a lab leak, its actions tell a different story. The Chinese military posted its top epidemiologist to the Institute of Virology in January. In February Chairman Xi Jinping urged swift implementation of new biosafety rules to govern pathogens in laboratory settings. Academic papers about the virus’s origins are now subject to prior restraint by the government.

For the full commentary, see:

Tom Cotton. “Coronavirus and the Laboratories in Wuhan.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, April 22, 2020): A21.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 21, 2020, and has the title “ON BUSINESS; Airbnb Defied the Odds of Startup Success. How Will It Survive a Pandemic?”)