Lab leak denying scientist privately said theory was 'highly likely'

EXCLUSIVE: Scientists who denounced Covid lab leak theory as a conspiracy secretly believed it was ‘highly likely’ the virus escaped Chinese research facility, leaked messages obtained by show

  • House Republicans published messages showing doctors said lab leak ‘likely’ 
  • Defective redactions have meant more private Slack chats have been uncovered
  • READ MORE: Scientists at center of lab leak cover-up feared China ‘s***show’

A renowned scientist who led the condemnation of the Covid lab leak theory privately believed it was ‘high likely’, leaked messages show.

Dr Kristian Andersen, a Danish evolutionary biologist, co-authored a now-notorious research paper published in March 2020 that denounced the origin scenario as a conspiracy theory and xenophobic. 

Yet Slack messages obtained by show how just weeks before the publication of that paper, Dr Anderson told colleagues the idea of a lab leak was ‘not some fringe theory’ and was, in fact, ‘highly likely’ the genesis of the pandemic.

Separate, publicly-available communications between the virologist and his co-authors show how the group backed the natural origin theory  – the idea the virus jumped from an animal to a person in the wild – for ‘political’ reasons and feared pinning the blame on the Chinese lab would cause a ‘s***show’ and threaten future funding of virus manipulation research.

Critics say the messages show how the scientific community conspired to censor debate about the origins of the pandemic, but the scientists involved claim they changed their minds between sending the messages and writing the paper.

Dr Kristian Andersen, a Danish evolutionary biologist from Scripps Research, was a co-author of the March 2020 Nature Medicine research article titled ‘The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2’

Dr Kristian Andersen, from Scripps Research, giving evidence during a hearing with the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic on Capitol Hill on July 11, 2023 in Washington, DC

Shi Zhengli – dubbed the ‘Bat Lady’ or ‘Bat Woman’ for her work on bat coronaviruses – investigated the possibility Covid could have emerged from her lab back in 2020 according to colleagues. Ben Hu was reportedly one of her star pupil

Dr Andersen and the other scientists involved in publishing ‘The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2’ paper on March 17, 2020, were asked to testify before the House Oversight Select Subcommittee on Tuesday.

But only Dr Andersen and co-author Dr Robert Garry, a respected microbiologist who works at Tulane University in New Orleans, actually did.

House Republicans grilled the two doctors, citing the newly disclosed communications between researchers in early 2020 as evidence of a cover-up – something the scientists strongly refuted. 

Some of the messages were published as part of a Government report released early Tuesday before the hearing. was able to obtain extra messages not revealed in the report.

House Republicans pointed to the scientists’ efforts to probe Covid’s origins in the document, which they say amounted to blatantly squashing voices that advocated for more serious inquiry into the theory that the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

In a message sent on February 2, 2020, Dr Andersen said: ‘The main issue is that accidental escape is in fact highly likely – it’s not some fringe theory.

Also on February 2, 2020, Dr Andersen admitted he found it ‘strange’ that Covid emerged in Wuhan, a city hundreds of miles from rural China where related coronaviruses circulate, despite labeling the lab leak theory a conspiracy

The question of whether the global outbreak began with a spillover from wildlife sold at the market or leaked out of the Wuhan lab just eight miles across the Yangtze River has given rise to fierce debate. Some studies point to a natural spillover at the Huanan wildlife market. Positive swab samples of floors, cages and counters also track the virus back to stalls in the southwestern corner of the market (bottom left), where animals with the potential to harbour Covid were sold for meat or fur at the time (bottom right)

The watchdog group White Coat Waste sued the sprawling National Institutes of Health to gather information about the three early infections with a virus whose symptoms looked like Covid

‘I absolutely agree that we can’t prove one way or the other, but we never will be able to – however, that doesn’t mean that by default the data is currently much more suggestive of a natural origin as opposed to e.g. passage. It’s not…’

In other messages, Dr Andersen admitted he found it ‘strange’ that Covid emerged in Wuhan, a city hundreds of miles from rural China where related coronaviruses circulate, despite labeling the lab leak theory a conspiracy.

He said: ‘Do we have any location information on the bat SARS-like viruses? …I believe RaTG13 is from Yunnan, which is about as far away from Wuhan as you can be and still be in China. 

‘What are the chances of finding viruses that are 96 percent identical given that distance? Seems strange given how many SARS-like viruses we have in bats.’

RaTG13 is a bat virus and one of the closest known relatives to the SARS-CoV-2 Covid virus. There were fears that it may have been the ancestor of Covid that was tinkered with in the lab.

The WIV is just a 40-minute drive from the Huanan wet market in China, where the first infections started. Meanwhile, as Dr Andersen pointed out, Wuhan is more than 800 miles from Yunnan, the region where Covid’s relative is indigenous, making natural transmission seem less likely.

Dr Andersen did not reply to a request for comment. 

Other messages which were displayed in the cropped screenshots in the report show that Dr Rambaut, a biologist at the University of Edinburgh, another co-author of the anti-lab leak paper, feared pinning the blame on China for ‘even accidental release’ of the virus would cause a geopolitical ‘s*** show’, and so he was ‘content with ascribing it to natural process.’

The notorious proximal origin paper was partly commissioned by Dr Anthony Fauci, the then-head of the US’s national research agency that had been funding risky virus research on Covid’s relatives at the lab in Wuhan, partly funded by the US taxpayer.

Co-author Dr Garry admitted to the BBC last month the researchers went ‘too far’ in the paper.

The paper concluded: ‘We do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.’

READ MORE: Fauci STILL thinks Covid was natural origin despite lab leak revelations 

Dr Anthony Fauci still believes Covid emerged naturally, telling that while he is keeping ‘an open mind’ about the origin of the pandemic, the ‘data seem to weigh toward it being natural’.

But Dr Garry said this statement was never meant to dismiss all types of potential lab leak. 

Speaking to Fever: The Hunt for Covid’s Origin, an eight-part BBC Radio 4 series, he said they were aiming to dismiss the idea the virus had been intentionally crafted as a bioweapon.  

‘At that point we were still largely under the influence, when that particular sentence was written, with the notion that this may have been a bioengineered virus or maybe a weapon that just sort of accidentally released,’ he said.

But pressed by John Sudworth, the BBC’s former Beijing Correspondent, on how the paper’s principal conclusion covered all types of lab leaks, such as a from a disease research facility, Professor Garry admitted the wording was wrong. 

‘Maybe we went a little too far there,’ he said.

The Proximal Origin report, which was published just days after a conference call in which top scientists, including Dr Anthony Fauci and Dr Francis Collins, fielded frantic messages from virologists about the possibility that aspects of the virus appeared man-made.

Internal messages show that even Dr Andersen considered the argument that the genomic makeup of the virus suggested human tampering, though he changed his tune just four days later on February 4, as evidenced by an e-mail he sent to a different crop of scientists – which was later recovered by investigative group Right to Know.

In the message, Dr Andersen wrote: ‘The main crackpot theories going around at the moment relate to this virus being somehow engineered with intent and that is demonstrably not the case.’

The Republicans’ efforts to nail down where exactly the virus came from, whether that be from a Wuhan wet market selling animals contaminated with the virus or from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, have homed in on exposing the inner workings of scientific authorities like Dr Fauci and Dr Collins – colloquially dubbed by Republicans as ‘the Bethesda Boys’.

The issue has become a largely political one after years of labeling certain scientists, including Dr Fauci and Dr Collins at the center of the debate as overtly biased in favor of theories espoused by many Democrats and government-entrenched scientists.

This includes the theory that Covid-19 likely jumped from an animal intermediary host before infecting humans.

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