James Forsyth

How China tried to suppress the lab leak investigation

How China tried to suppress the lab leak investigation
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The lead figure in the World Health Organisation’s work on the origins of Covid-19 has given a remarkable interview to Danish TV. Peter Ben Embarek has revealed just how much political pressure the investigation came under and made clear that he thinks the lab leak hypothesis should not, pace the official report, be dismissed as extremely unlikely.

Embarek told TV2 ‘Until 48 hours before we finished the whole mission, we still had no agreement that we would talk about the laboratory part in the report, so there was a discussion right up to the end about whether to include it or not.’ He said that, ‘initially, they [the Chinese] didn’t want anything about the laboratory included because it was impossible and so it would be a waste of time. We insisted on including it because it was part of the whole issue about where the virus came from.’ He adds, ‘I said: "Listen. We need to include this, otherwise we don’t have a report. It's not going to be approved or accepted as a reasonable, credible report.’”

Embarek also makes clear the obstacles that were put in him and his team’s way: ‘We didn't get a look at lab books or documents directly from the lab. We got a presentation and then we got to talk about and ask the questions we wanted to ask, but we didn't get to look at any documentation at all.’ As he points out, the behaviour of the Chinese side raises questions:

‘We should investigate the hypothesis of a laboratory leak, it is for several reasons. One of them is the way in which the Chinese government has behaved. They have tried to suppress all research in this area. We can't know if it's because they're just trying to control the narrative or if it's because they have something to hide.’

Certainly, the fact that the laboratory moved location in December 2019 does raise suspicions. As Embarek recalls, ‘I ask the management, “How old is this lab?” And they say: “Well, it's from December 2019. We moved to these new laboratories on 2 December 2019.”’ As he points out, ‘It is interesting that the lab moved on 2 December 2019. That's the period when it all started, and you know that when you move a lab, it's disruptive to everything.’

Embarek posits that one likely explanation for the origin of a virus is a laboratory staffer being infected as they were collecting samples: ‘An employee who got infected in the field by taking samples is one of the likely hypotheses. That’s where the virus jumps directly from a bat to a human. In that case, it would be a laboratory worker rather than a random villager or other person who has regular contact with bats. So it's actually in the likely category.’

What is becoming increasingly clear is that the dismissal of the lab leak theory back in March 2020 was a huge mistake. Embarek’s interview backs up Matt Ridley’s view that the lab leak theory is looking increasingly plausible.

Given the amount of time that has elapsed, we will probably never know for sure what the origins of Covid-19 are. But it is becoming clearer by the day that the Chinese government conducted a cover up, for whatever reason, that made the whole situation even worse than it needed to be.