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.

Disillusioned Cuban Communist Became Entrepreneur

(p. 7) . . . , Ms. Limonta’s faith in the revolution had been absolute. Born just three weeks after Fidel Castro started his uprising by beaching an old American yacht called Granma in a mangrove swamp on Cuba’s southern shore in 1956, she had fully embraced his promise to wipe out inequality and create a new Cuba.

. . .

As the revolution aged, contradictions grew harder to ignore. As her job took her around the country, she saw that the hospitals most Cubans went to were shabby reflections of the one where her mother was treated. Other Cubans waited months, sometimes years, for a wheelchair. They couldn’t count on oxygen being available. Vital equipment broke down. Medicines ran out. Doctors and nurses expected to be bribed.

The stark differences weighed on Ms. Limonta, weakening her revolutionary spirit as well as her heart. She was just 48 when she was rushed to the mediocre hospital to which she, as a resident of Guanabacoa, was assigned. But once doctors found out who she was, they insisted on transferring her to Cuba’s top cardiology center.

She got the pacemaker she needed, but the speedy treatment only deepened her doubts. Bound by a strict sense of social justice, she finally forced herself to see the truth. She and her mother had been pampered in their time of need not because they were equal to other Cubans. Not because they were socialists. Not because they loved Fidel. But because they were more important.

The surgery caused a nearly mortal infection in her heart. Emergency open-heart surgery left her scarred and uncertain about her life. She decided to quit her job, hand in her party membership, give back her state car and even renounce the Santería religion she had been practicing.

Standing before a mirror one day, she cried. The scars on her body made her look like she had been torn apart and sewn back together, which was how she felt about her life. She had turned her back on everything she once believed in and had no idea how to go on. She was not like her friend Lili, who led the neighborhood Committee for the Defense of the Revolution and whose faith in Communism was unshakable. Like many other Cubans whose support for the revolution lagged, Ms. Limonta had few options. She could dissent openly and invite harassment or persecution. She could throw herself into a raft and hope the sea breezes blew her to Florida. Or she could keep her thoughts to herself and focus on surviving.

Even with the subsidized rice and beans every Cuban receives, her $12 monthly pension guaranteed only misery. She needed to remake her life and found inspiration in the old treadle sewing machine that her mother had given her for graduation. Using discarded hotel sheets, she sewed crib sets for newborns that she covertly sold for a few dollars apiece. In 2011, when Raúl Castro cautiously allowed Cubans to start their own small businesses, Ms. Limonta became one of Cuba’s first legal capitalists.

Eventually, with help from a church-sponsored business incubator, she created her own company, rented space for a workshop, hired seamstresses and started turning out clothing of her own design. When President Barack Obama visited Havana in 2016 to see for himself how Cuba was responding to the opening he had set in motion, Ms. Limonta was among the Cuban entrepreneurs who met with him.

. . .

. . . , the old men who run Cuba cannot deny that they’ve lost even individuals like Ms. Limonta who once embraced the revolution. Cubans are not in the streets protesting, but they have no loyalty toward the men who took Fidel Castro’s place or the political system they keep propping up.

For the full commentary, see:

Anthony DePalma. “How Cubans Lost Faith in Revolution.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, May 24, 2020): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 23, 2020 and has the same title as the print version.)

DePalma’s commentary, quoted above, is related to his book:

DePalma, Anthony. The Cubans: Ordinary Lives in Extraordinary Times. New York: Viking, 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

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?”)

An Informed Public Can Protect Themselves Better than Central Planners Can Protect Them

(p. A15) China teaches one thing: When a novel respiratory virus emerges, a free press is on balance an indispensable medical asset. The steps an informed public can take to protect itself are far more potent than any top-down action. Unknown is whether the new disease really originated in a meat market in Wuhan, as was first reported. But suppressing news of its outbreak once it was discovered was China’s most fatal mistake.

For the full commentary, see:

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. “BUSINESS WORLD; Coronavirus Needs a Free Press.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 12, 2020): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 11, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)