How did COVID originate?Why we may never know if the laboratory leak occurred in China
At the beginning of this century, after SARS, China began to allow more students and scientists to study abroad. Cooperation and exchange The relationship between American and Chinese scientists is booming.
Many of China’s top scientists today were educated in the West.Among them are Gao Gao, the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who was trained and taught at Oxford and Harvard, and Shi ZhengliDirector of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, Wuhan Institute of Virology, PhD. In France.
Many people, such as Gao, spent more than ten years abroad before returning to China, and then returned to China to take up senior positions, usually with prestigious positions and high salaries. They have performed well in laboratory work, their science is respected, and the top American scientists know them well. They become friends with their American counterparts, It can be clearly seen from the email correspondence between Anthony Fauci and Gao With the emergence of the pandemic, it was recently released in accordance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.
But in the early days of becoming a global crisis, when limited and reassuring information about the spread of the new coronavirus and the extent of its domestic outbreak came out from China, the mistrust among top American scientists led some people to believe that the virus was spreading. It might not be that bad.
The problem is: Chinese scientists are great scientists, but they work for an authoritarian government, where politics, not facts, always come first. If they know or find information that makes China look bad, it is dangerous to say it—especially to foreign colleagues, especially in public, and often even to their friends or family members.
After Donald Trump became president, this may sound familiar, during which time he often ridiculed and rejected experts like Fauci. But the risks faced by Chinese scientists are much greater: loss of jobs and children’s career prospects, police visits, false accusations, and even jail time.
As national leader Xi Jinping reminded his scientists In the speech Last year: “Science knows no borders, but scientists have a motherland.”
Every Chinese citizen knows how to explain this sentence, and I also learned: When I was a reporter in Beijing, I met Dr. Gao Yaojie, who exposed the HIV/AIDS epidemic in rural China due to unhygienic blood. Some of the collection practices are state-owned.
She is an important source for a series of articles I wrote about the tragedy that is happening, almost the entire Impoverished rural adult population Is dying without any treatment and Leave AIDS orphans. Dr. Gao (not related to George Gao) was Bill with Hillary Clinton won International Human Rights Award Saved tens of thousands of lives and ended dangerous practices. But in China, the same job means that Gao spent her retirement under house arrest, often receiving attention and threats from local officials for embarrassing China.She fled China in 2009 and Obtaining political asylum in the U.S.. That was when China was not as authoritarian and more open as it is today.
President Joe Biden has instructed the security agency To figure it out Laboratory Leakage Theory-Determine whether SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, comes from the Wuhan laboratory or from nature. But if international scientific detectives want to see the laboratory log or find the whistleblower, that probably won’t happen.This kind of information will not be leaked to many American friends and scientific partners of Chinese scientists, including the Wuhan Laboratory in the United States has received Over a million dollars Funding from the National Institutes of Health And cooperated with many American scientists.
error Happened in scienceThe pathogen leaking from a good containment laboratory is not because people are evil. This is because, for example, the technician performing the bench work forgets an important step or becomes sloppy when going home in a hurry-it only takes a second. Or, for example, if scientists collect bat samples in remote caves, they feel a little too comfortable in a dangerous environment-because they have been there dozens of times before, without any problems, and biochemical protective clothing and face It is suffocating. Therefore, they took off their masks a bit prematurely when they left.
When this happens, you must immediately admit the error to control the damage. But Chinese scientists cannot do this, at least in public. In late December 2019, when Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist working in a large hospital in Wuhan, raised his concerns about the patient’s death from a strange new virus to his colleagues, he was punished. Told by the police Investigate on the grounds of “stop spreading rumors” and “spreading rumors.” A few weeks later, he died of COVID-19.
In China today, if it challenges the official government narrative, it is dangerous to say what you know. On June 4, 1989, the people who participated in the protests in Tiananmen Square, which was violently suppressed by the Chinese army, did not even tell their children that there were bloody days when hundreds or even thousands of people were killed.
Kai Strittmatter, a long-term journalist based in China for one of Germany’s largest newspapers, Tell Terry Gross of NPR“Of course, this generation, they all know, but they dare not tell their children. Because, you know, when your children at school suddenly tell their teachers and ask them about the Tiananmen Square massacre, what will you do? “
As the Chinese initially suggested, we may never know whether this new type of coronavirus was leaked from a laboratory or spread from wild animals to humans at a live animal market in Wuhan. This is the knowledge we desperately need to prevent the next pandemic, because the solutions are so different.
If the previous hypothesis proves to be correct, American scientists will need to ensure that cooperation with Chinese partners is completely transparent-access logs, internal reports, and so on.If it is the latter, China must fully implement its ban on the sale of foreign animals (the “intermediate host” carrying the virus) in the wet market, which is the ban promised after the emergence of the original SARS virus From civet Nearly twenty years ago. But the Chinese government’s control of its scientists makes it impossible for us to understand the truth now or never.