US non-profit responds to claims it brought close relative of Covid-19 virus to Wuhan — Analysis

An American nonprofit behind the US-funded bat virus research in China has denied ever sending virus samples from Laos – a place where SARS-CoV-2 closest natural relative was found – to Wuhan in response to fresh allegations.

“No work was ever conducted in Laos as a part of this collaborative research project,” EcoHealth Alliance – a group that conducted experiments on coronaviruses while receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – said in a series of tweets on Sunday, responding to media reports alleging that the group might have transported a potentially dangerous virus from Laos to the laboratory in Wuhan.

The group’s name surfaced in October when the NIH principal deputy director, Lawrence Tabak, revealed EcoHealth Alliance did experiment on the viruses with the agency’s financial help. White House Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci indicated that the virus that was being tested as part of this project had been identified. “were distant enough molecularly that no matter what you did to them, they could never, ever become SARS-CoV-2.”

EcoHealth came under new scrutiny following emails from the White Coat Waste Project that appeared to indicate that EcoHealth was discussing the idea of collecting virus samples from bats in Laos, and then sending the results to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. White Coat Waste Project initially obtained the emails. The email spurred a flurry on Saturday, with Matt Ridley reporting in the Spectator.

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According to emails between EcoHealth Alliance (US government funders) and scientists, they discussed the collection of viral samples from bats in eight different countries. The researchers also talked about the possibility to transport them to Wuhan in order to cut through red tape. According to the Spectator, one email from 2016 reads as follows: “All samples collected would be tested at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

Laos seems to have been the home of at least one virus very close to SARS/Cov-2. Banal-52 is a bat-virus strain that was discovered in Laos in September. It shares 96.8 per cent of its genome to the Covid-19 pandemic virus.

EcoHealth Alliance will be open Sunday claimedRidley cited the following emails “do not show…that we were sampling bats in Laos and sending the results to Wuhan.”

However, the group admitted that they had requested permission from NIH to conduct research in Southeast Asian countries including Laos. This permission was granted. 

The nonprofit said it had shifted its focus to China.

 The response failed to satisfy Ridley, who is also a co-author of a book on Covid’s origin, who demanded “evidence” proving that  his report was not “fully accurate.”

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