US health officials have given a hugely controversial research organization another $650,000 (£580k) grant to experiment on Covid-like viruses – despite fears similar risky work may have actually sparked the pandemic.
EcoHealth Alliance, run by British zoologist Peter Daszak, funded studies in Wuhan – the Chinese city where the pandemic began – on manipulated coronaviruses.
Such research, known as ‘gain of function’, can see viruses deliberately engineered to become more dangerous to humans.
EcoHealth Alliance’s five-year experiment will investigate ‘the potential for future bat coronavirus emergence’ in Asia, with scientists set to trawl caves in Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam in the hunt to prevent another viral crisis.
The grant was awarded last month by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is still ran by Dr Anthony Fauci.
Dr Fauci is known to be close to Dr Daszak, who thanked the American Government’s departing chief medical adviser for downplaying theories that Covid may have been created in a lab.
EcoHealth Alliance is said to have received $60million (£53.5m) in federal cash over the past decade. Some of this money was funneled straight to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
EcoHealth Alliance, run by British zoologist Peter Daszak, funded studies in Wuhan – the Chinese city where the pandemic began – on manipulated coronaviruses. The boss of EcoHealth Alliance, Peter Daszak, shown left, is known to be close to Dr Anthony Fauci (right)
Previously, Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance has used the Wuhan Institute of Virology in research, particularly in gain-of-function research in which organisms are genetically altered
In a leaked email from 2020, Daszak appeared to express gratitude to Fauci for downplaying the theory that the Covid-19 was created in a lab in Wuhan, China
The justification for the grant says that previous research in this field ‘identifies the border region of Southern China, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam as a high risk for future emergence of novel coronaviruses and the potential site where SARS-CoV-2 first ‘spilled over’ from bats to people’.
The research will also include testing communities that live in close proximity to wildlife in south east Asia for coronaviruses.
According to the NIH’s website, the research will include supplying ‘viral sequences and isolates for use in vaccine development’.
The main aim of the research is described as conducting ‘community-based surveys and biological sampling of people frequently exposed to wildlife in Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, to find serological evidence of spillover’.
The other primary aim will include ‘sampling and PCR screening of bats and other wildlife at community surveillance sites’.
The new research may ‘also provide data on wildlife reservoirs and community spillover events of relevance to the origin of COVID-19,’ according to a section of the NIH report.
Another section reads: ‘Finally, we will rapidly supply viral sequences and isolates for use in vaccine and therapeutic development.’
The long-term goal of projects such as this one is to help aid global preparedness in case of another global pandemic, the NIH said.
The new study will see Daszak’s outfit investigating bats and other coronaviruses in the wild. It will run until August 2027
Daszak leaves his hotel after the World Health Organization (WHO) team wrapped up its investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on February 10, 2021
Further details of British researcher Daszak’s role in facilitating risky coronavirus research in China were revealed in a report back in April.
They outlined how his EcoHealth Alliance raked in millions in federal grants.
Daszak’s group, which bizarrely evolved from a save-the-manatees non-profit to a top champion of viral gain-of-function research as it chased federal funding, has long been at the center of questions about the origins of Covid.
The lengthy report that was published in Vanity Fair, based on dozens of interviews and more than 100,000 leaked internal documents, detailed how EcoHealth operated in a world of ‘murky grant agreements, flimsy oversight, and the pursuit of government funds for scientific advancement, in part by pitching research of steeply escalating risk’.
The report did not offer conclusive evidence as to whether Covid leaked from the Wuhan lab that worked closely with EcoHealth, or was transmitted to humans by an animal in a ‘natural spillover’ event, as Daszak has long insisted.
But it does outline the lengths to which Daszak – and Dr Fauci, whose agency helped fund his research – went to try to cast doubt on the lab-origin theory and downplay the potential role of risky research that EcoHealth supported in Wuhan.
A researcher swabs a bat’s mouth to take samples at Sai Yok National Park in Kanchanaburi province, west of Bangkok, Thailand
The Wuhan Institute of Virology kept live bats in cages, footage from inside the facility has revealed
In 2014, the National Institute of Health approved a $3.7million grant to EcoHealth titled Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence, the purpose of which was to create a sort of pandemic early-warning system.
The research involved gathering bat coronaviruses in China and studying them at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), as well as mixing components of SARS-like viruses from different species to create a novel chimera that was able to directly infect human cells.
Allowing such risky research to go forward at the Wuhan lab was ‘simply crazy, in my opinion,’ Jack Nunberg, director of the Montana Biotechnology Center, told Vanity Fair.
‘Reasons are lack of oversight, lack of regulation, the environment in China,’ he said. ‘So that is what really elevates it to the realm of, ‘No, this shouldn’t happen.’
Facing a funding shortfall when certain grants expired, EcoHealth in 2018 submitted an even more ambitious research proposal to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
The plan titled Project DEFUSE involved partnering with WIV to engineer bat coronaviruses to be more deadly, by inserting genetic features that are similar to those found in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid.
Daszak has also been accused of being relentless in his pursuit of obtaining NIH grant money from Fauci for EcoHealth’s research
Pictured: Shi Zhengli works with other researchers in a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province
In their response, DARPA officials slammed the plan as risky for failing to address significant ethical legal and social concerns, refusing to issue the $14.2million grant.
Daszak has also been accused of being relentless in his pursuit of obtaining NIH grant money from Fauci for EcoHealth’s research.
He would invite Fauci to EcoHealth events that were described on invitations as ‘educational’ despite the fact that nonprofit officials referred to them as ‘cultivation events’ in which they should network with ‘prospective federal funders’.
The group would spend approximately $8,000 on each ‘cultivation’ event.
‘These kinds of events are common among many nongovernmental organizations and nonprofits, which depend upon both public and private donors for support,’ Daszak told the magazine, defending the parties.
Daszak also repeatedly lauded Fauci, requesting he serve as a ‘panel speaker’ at select EcoHealth events.
In April 2020, Daszak came under scrutiny in April 2020 when theories about the origin of COVID surfaced.
A reporter asked then-President Donald Trump during a Covid press briefing why the U.S. government would support a $3.7million grant to a Chinese lab.
‘We will end that grant very quickly,’ Trump replied, prompting a follow-up question, from another reporter, directed at Fauci about whether a lab could be responsibly for Covid.
Dr Fauci, answered, alleging a ‘group of highly qualified evolutionary virologists’ determined the virus was ‘totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human.’
The next day, Daszak reportedly emailed Dr Fauci to thank him for ‘publicly standing up and stating that the scientific evidence supports a natural origin for Covid from a bat-to-human spillover, not a lab release from the Wuhan Institute of Virology’.
Dr Fauci reportedly thanked the scientist back.
China’s official pandemic timeline of the coronavirus pandemic and the evidence that undermines it
Dec 8, 2019 – Earliest date that China has acknowledged an infection
Dec 31 – China first reported ‘pneumonia of unknown cause’ to the World Health Organisation
Jan 1, 2020 – Wuhan seafood market closed for disinfection
Jan 7 – President Xi Jinping discusses coronavirus outbreak with his politburo
Jan 9 – China makes public the genome of the coronavirus
Jan 11 – China reported its first death
Jan 13 – First case outside China is confirmed
Jan 20 – China’s National Health Commission confirms human-to-human transmission
Jan 23 – Wuhan locked down
Jan 31 – WHO declared ‘outbreak of international concern’ as China admitted having thousands of cases
Feb 23 – Italy reports cluster of cases in first major outbreak in the West
May 29 – China claims virus did not originate in wet markets but in Chinese bats before it jumped to humans via an ‘intermediary animal’
July 31 – Chinese researcher admits some coronavirus experiments conducted in lower biosafety labs
Dec 16 – WHO announces it will travel to Wuhan to probe origins of virus in January
Jan 5, 2021 – China denies entry to WHO’s investigatory team
Feb 9 – WHO dismisses theory virus leaked from lab – backs China’s claim it was imported from frozen meat
Mar 28 – Former US national security officials says intel shows ‘there was a direct order from Beijing to destroy all viral samples’ at Wuhan lab
2012: Six miners struck down with with a mysterious flu-like illness in Mojiang cave in Yunnan.
They were found to have been infected with the closest known relative to Covid, sharing 97% of its genes.
Samples RATG13 are sent to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to be studied.
Sep 2019– Blood samples are taken in a lung cancer screening trial in Italy which later test positive for coronavirus
Oct – Whistleblower Wei Jingsheng claims China deliberately spread Covid at The World Military Games in Wuhan in October, two months before the rest of the world knew about the virus
Oct – Xi Jinping’s authoritarian regime tried desperately to shut down whistle-blowers like Mr Jingsheng. Any references made in social media about a new SARS virus or ‘outbreak’ were censored
Oct-Dec – Rise in ‘flu and pneumonia’ cases in northern Italy which could be linked to coronavirus
Nov – Whistleblower Mr Jingsheng claims he took his concerns about the military games to senior figures within the Trump administration but was ignored
Nov – Intelligence report passed to agencies in Washington claims three members of staff at the Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital treatment in November 2019 after experiencing symptoms consistent with Covid
Nov – Sewage samples taken in Florianópolis, Brazil, suggest virus was present
Nov 10 – Milanese woman has a skin biopsy, producing a sample which later shows signs of the virus
Nov 17 – Leaked documents suggest case detected in China on this date
Dec – Doctors in China, including Li Wenliang, report existance of new type of respiratory infection. But Chinese police arrested him and eight of his colleagues for questioning – instead of publicising reports and warning public
Dec 1 – Chinese researchers report an infection on this date in a peer-reviewed study, but it has not been acknowledged by Beijing
Dec 18 – Sewage samples taken in Milan and Turin suggest virus was circulating in the cities
Dec 26 – Samples analysed suggested a new type of SARS was circulating as early as December 26, but Wuhan was not locked down until January 22
Jan 2020 – Sewage samples from Barcelona suggest virus was in the city
Jan 3 – Covid-19 infections begin sweeping across other nations including the U.S. as the WHO labelled the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern
May – Scientists at a government lab in California concluded that Covid-19 may have escaped from a facility in Wuhan
July – WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said China failed share vital raw data during their investigation in Wuhan. China rebuffed those claims
June 2021: Leading US virus expert Dr Anthony Fauci was warned Covid may have been engineered in a lab, emails publicly released reveal.
August: The world’s first Covid-19 patient may have been infected by a bat while working for a Wuhan lab in China, WHO chief Dr Peter Embarek said
August: A damning report by Republicans in the US claims coronavirus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, shortly after the facility tried to improve air safety and waste treatment systems
The report also cited ‘ample evidence’ that lab scientists were working to modify coronaviruses to infect humans and such manipulation could be hidden.
October: US intelligence review into origins of pandemic does not reach a judgement on whether the virus emerged via animal-to-human transmission or a lab leak.
Chinese officials branded the report ‘political and false’.
January 2022: Leaked emails from top UK scientist Sir Jeremy Farrar showed he admitted in February 2020 that it was a ‘likely explanation’ that the virus could be man-made. But he went on to brand the theory a ‘conspiracy’.
February: Sir Farrar is called to be interviewed under oath at the US Congress. Officials want him to explain why he shifted away from the lab leak theory.