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MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: The world needs to know exactly what happened in Wuhan

The mystery of Wuhan – did the Covid-19 outbreak originate in a state laboratory there? – has now reached a new level. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has added his powerful voice to those asking for the truth.

The US State Department, in a document of great sobriety and caution, did not suggest that the virus was intentionally engineered or released on purpose.

Even so, it flatly accused China’s ruling Communist Party of systematically preventing a proper investigation into the origin of the pandemic.

It complained that China’s authorities have a ‘deadly obsession with secrecy and control’ and have chosen instead to ‘devote enormous resources to deceit and disinformation’.

The mystery of Wuhan – did the Covid-19 outbreak originate in a state laboratory there? – has now reached a new level. Pictured: Shi Zhengli works with other researchers in a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province

Washington also suggested that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) has been involved in military work, even though it poses as a civilian institution.

The State Department said that the WIV had collaborated on publications and secret projects with China’s military and had done classified research, including animal experiments, on behalf of China’s defence sector. 

It said it had ‘a right and obligation to determine whether any of our research funding was diverted to secret Chinese military projects at the WIV’.

This is extraordinarily tough language at such a high level. Mr Pompeo was careful not to make any specific allegations about what may have happened. 

The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has added his powerful voice to those asking for the truth

But he revealed, in a major development, that the US has ‘reason to believe’ that several researchers inside the WIV fell ill in the autumn of 2019, weeks before the first officially identified case of Covid. 

They had symptoms consistent with both Covid and common seasonal illnesses. US experts also claim that Wuhan scientists were working with a bat coronavirus that is 96.2 per cent similar genetically to the virus that causes Covid.

Could this autumn 2019 outbreak have been the first case of Covid? Could this have resulted from a laboratory accident or unintended cross-infection between animals in laboratories and human researchers? 

It is vitally important that we should know, and high time, too. 

   

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The Mail on Sunday first reported on April 5 last year that British Government Ministers had been briefed on intelligence which ‘did not rule out that the virus first spread to humans after leaking from a Wuhan laboratory’. 

Those who cast doubt on this revelation at the time have some explaining to do.

The evidence is now piling up that serious independent investigation is required. With a death toll of two million already, even the suggestion that this disaster may have had origins in human error must be pursued until we have clear answers.

The World Health Organisation is looking into events in Wuhan. But will this probe be adequate?

Questions have been raised about one of the inquiry members, Peter Daszak, who has been accused of important conflicts of interest.

The WHO team also cannot be sure of full co-operation from China. As of last night, there was no certainty that the team would even be permitted to visit the WIV itself. Shockingly, neither China nor the WHO will say exactly where they will go.

This is simply not good enough. The world needs to know exactly what happened in Wuhan. If it was a disastrous accident leading to a pandemic, then urgent steps must be taken as quickly as possible to prevent a repeat.

And China has to understand that, as a great and growing power, it needs to accept much higher standards of transparency and frankness than it has shown so far.

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