A U.S. scientist who denounced the theory that COVID-19 could have accidentally leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology admitted through a spokesman that he did so to protect Chinese scientists from online criticism.
Dr. Peter Daszak, president of the New York-based EcoHealth Alliance, published a statement in The Lancet medical journal in February, prior to any serious research on the origins of the outbreak, condemning “conspiracy theories” that suggest the virus didn’t have a natural origin.
Daszak has worked directly with scientists at the WIV, which was studying coronaviruses prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, and allegedly played an influential role in directing two taxpayer-funded grants from the National Institute of Health to the Chinese research center.
A spokesman for Daszak told The Wall Street Journal on Friday that his statement, which was cited by numerous news outlets at the onset of the pandemic, was meant to protect Chinese scientists.
“The Lancet letter was written during a time in which Chinese scientists were receiving death threats and the letter was intended as a showing of support for them as they were caught between important work trying to stop an outbreak and the crush of online harassment,” Daszak’s spokesman told The Journal.
Daszak did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation when asked if he maintains that there is no possibility that COVID-19 could have been accidentally released from the WIV.
The World Health Organization appointed Daszak to a 10-person panel that began investigating the origins of the virus in China on Thursday. Independent experts have criticized Daszak’s inclusion on the panel due to his prior connections with the WIV.
The State Department announced on Friday that it has reason to believe that researchers at the WIV became sick in the fall of 2019 prior to the first known cases of COVID-19, raising concerns of an accidental lab leak.
Dr. Maceij Boni, a professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University, told The Journal that it would be “positive evidence” pointing to the theory that COVID-19 leaked from the WIV lab if its researchers became infected with the virus prior to its outbreak among the general population.
Deadly viruses have a history of escaping from Chinese laboratories.
The SARS virus escaped twice from the Chinese Institute of Virology in Beijing in 2004, one year after the virus was initially contained.
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