On the Origin of Covid. With Apologies to Darwin

Part 5 of the Covid Files, investigating the Pandemic and its consequences for medicine.

Where did the SARS-COV-2 virus originate? Was it engineered and unintentionally escaped its laboratory confines? Was it released intentionally? Did the virus cross over from an animal to human? The questions came as thick and fast as the bodies piling up at the morgues as the pandemic spread across the globe in 2020. Why the intense interest if discovering the virus’s origin wasn’t relevant to developing a treatment?

The answers to the origin questions matter, if not simply for accountability, then for the sake of science and allaying a growing theory that perhaps we had created a monster and unleashed it on the world. The ensuing investigation (still technically ongoing), as with everything related to Covid, became a daunting, conspiracy-laden undertaking, riddled with misinformation, coverups, disclosures, and plenty of ass-covering. No one wants to be held accountable for global chaos and a mounting body count.

Two main theories evolved, and we will examine both. The first was that the virus was artificial or engineered and leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, whether with nefarious intent or by accident. The second drew its basis from conventional science that the virus had crossed over from the animal population (a zoonotic origin), either a bat or another unfortunate animal sold in the Wuhan market and destined for dinner.

I have tried to eschew technical terms in the article in favor of plain English, and where it cannot be avoided, I have attempted to explain the science involved to the best of my limited abilities. The article is long and perhaps a tad tedious in places, but background matters if you are really looking to understand the two opposing arguments.

Before we look at the – what can only roughly be termed – “evidence” supporting both claims, a few things worth noting about any origin theory.

There is a third possible scenario related to the location of “patient zero” or the first person infected with the virus. There are research laboratories spread across the globe that engage in Gain of Function (GOF) research, something I’ll discuss further in the article. Essentially GOF is the process whereby a virus is engineered to be more deadly. For example, the virus’s ability to infect its host would be amplified with genetic manipulation. The laboratory in Wuhan would have shared its research with any of these institutions.

We only assume that Wuhan was the point of origin, but it is possible that the virus was circulating in the human population earlier than December 2019 in another location. Like either of the aforementioned scenarios, the waters surrounding this possibility are equally murky.

The real problem posed by the new Covid virus came down to one thing. How it attaches itself to its human host and exploits our ACE2 receptors. What follows is a bit technical and you can ignore it and skip on to the next paragraph, as a working understanding of the virus’s mechanism of action isn’t crucial to following the story

The SARS-CoV-2 genome contains typical coronavirus genes but the receptor binding domain (RBD) in the S protein is highly specific. The site for furin-like protease cleavage of the S protein into S1 and S2 subunits is also unique.

These specific and unique adaptations make the virus so at home in our bodies and fuel the artificial theory. They have also, to date, posed the most significant stumbling blocks to identifying a zoonotic (animal) origin.

Also, before we dive in, scientists have identified the sources for the zoonotic origin of the SARS-COV outbreak in 2002. It is a complicated and often painstakingly long process to track down a carrier, an animal providing a cross-over point from animals to humans. Similarly, MERS is passed to humans by dromedary. We live in proximity to these animals, and it is this proximity that adds to the risk of cross-over events. These viruses are the exception rather than the rule.

Theory 1. Animal infects man, man infects man, and the pandemic begins

I cannot, in all honesty, suggest that there can be many people, including leading scientists, who in 2023, still place much faith in this theory. It can only however be ruled out once a definitive answer is provided. So, let’s explore why the natural origin theory was promoted so vociferously and why, to prove the theory, an animal infected with the virus, sold in the markets in Wuhan, needed to be found.

How infectious are these new viruses that originate in animals?

What follows below may seem long winded, but it is a necessary preface for a very important point, one of transmissibility, and it’s an important point to grasp in the origin debate.

Luckily for us, novel viruses are rarely adept at person to person transmission. The process by which they escape their animal host and manage to infect a human host is usually a result of a new mutation of the virus, and most of the time, the genetic mechanisms the virus has evolved are not well enough developed to make it effective at jumping from one human host to another. Many of these terrifying new strains that pop up are self-limiting and relatively easy to contain.

That, from a public health point of view, is a huge blessing, but it is unfortunately not always the case. Take the Spanish or the Great Flu of 1918. The virus responsible for the outbreak (H1N1) originated in ducks or poultry, supposedly in the US, despite the term “Spanish Flu.” One of the first recorded cases was on March 11, 1918, at Fort Riley in Kansas. While there is some disagreement about the US as the point of origin, there is no doubt the original host was avian. This virus not only managed the cross-species jump, but it also proved a winner in the infectious stakes, moving with deadly ease from one person to another.

As an interesting aside, the H1N1 virus claimed more than 50 million lives out of an estimated 1.8 billion people alive in 1918 and disappeared as rapidly as it had emerged. Estimates vary, but figures suggest it claimed between 1 and 5% of the global population. The SARS-COV2 virus has killed 6.73 million globally out of a population of 7.7 billion, infecting, according to the WHO, 662 million, or roughly about 10 percent of the global population. Deaths only represent approximately 1% of the infected and 0.01% of the total population.

SARS-NCOV2 is very infectious and as it mutates and develops new strains, it follows a typical viral evolution, becoming less deadly in exchange for an increase in transmissibility. So, to the point. The novel virus first documented in Wuhan is immediately an outlier. Unlike most other novel viruses, it is perfectly adapted to infecting humans.

No prior recorded run-ins with the good folk of planet Earth, the virus simply appears out of the blue in 2019, perfectly adapted to infecting it’s human host and equally adept at passing from person to person, in other words, highly transmissible. Now while the odds of this occurring naturally cannot be ruled out, they are slim. Really slim. We encounter thousands of viruses in the course of our day to day lives with no ill effects.

The changes that enable a virus to cross over to humans from their animal hosts, are, as I discussed earlier, rare and often self limiting. The virus makes the jump, but is unable to spread itself effectively from human host to human host (low transmissibility). You may not be aware of this, but new pathogens emerge frequently and fortunately for us, aren’t sufficiently evolved to maintain a presence in their new hosts (us).

Also, the more deadly pathogens tend to kill off their victims before the person has the chance to spread the new disease very far., thereby also limiting the spread. There is a sweet spot for viruses that want to hit it off with mankind, and very few achieve it. From early analysis of the SARS-COV2 virus, it offered the perfect balance of transmissibility and lethalness.

A virus made for humanity, if you’ll excuse the phrase.

Tracking down the deadly courier

As members of the identified species responsible for the original SARS-COV virus outbreak in China in late 2002, bats and civets were immediately marked as prime suspects. In the 2002 outbreak, initial assessments determined that the virus crossed to human hosts from zoonotic reservoirs, including bats, Himalayan palm civets (Paguma larvata), and raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoides), sold in exotic animal markets in Guangdong Province.

Initial suspicion fell on the pangolin as the original reservoir for the SARS-COV2 virus and some even suggested that the virus may have evolved by combining pangolin and bat COV strains, a theory later dismissed as the virus was subsequently shown not to be recombinant (made of of two or more strains). Then, in October 2020, the pangolin was exonerated. It could not, it was shown, have been responsible for harboring the virus that infected us.

Science dug deeper. Setting aside the pangolin, SARS-CoV-2 was also reported to bind to ACE2 from Chinese horseshoe bats, civet, cat, turtle, ferret, monkey, dog, Chinese hamster, buffalo, cow, sheep, swine and even pigeon, but none proved feasible as either a reservoir or as an intermediary between the reservoir and man.

A lot hinged on the fact that we had an established pattern with SARS-COV that appeared to be repeating itself. In 2002 it had been the wet markets in Guangdong Province and the exotic animals traded there, now it was the wet markets in Wuhan, specifically the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where the first cases were supposedly recorded. Appearances can however be deceptive.

What if the Huanan market had not been ground zero for Covid-19? Could that rule out a zoonotic reservoir? As early as May of 2020, papers began circulating, questioning the publicly accepted narrative of the market and pointing to earlier cases in Wuhan, unrelated to the market. The quote below is lifted directly from one such paper published in Frontiers of Medicine.

COVID-19 is officially considered to have emerged at the Huanan
seafood wholesale market (HSWM) in Wuhan in December, however, epidemiological data show that early cases of COVID-19 were not related to HSWM and thus that it is not the site of emergence. Phylogenetic studies suggest that SARS-CoV-2 might have circulated in Wuhan as early as October 2019 and that the virus then spread at low-level from person to person (the latency phase), before being imported to HSWM where it was detected in December 2019

Flaws in zoonotic theories for SARS and MERS predate SARS-COV2. Without getting into technical details (links included for those who wish to explore the topic in more depth) there are two basic models that allow a virus to jump species, the first being the spillover model and a second, referred to as the circulation model. In this model there is no requirement for zoonotic pressure or epizootic episode prior to the emergence of a human disease.

In layman’s terms, we (animals and humans) coexist with viruses (often shared) and are frequently infected with no ill effects. However, under the right conditions, one of these viral infections can mutate, perhaps in the presence of a host with a weakened immune system or genetic abnormality that predisposes the person to that specific virus’s genome. It is therefor possible that SARS-COV2 used a human chain as its intermediary and evolved in human hosts.

SARS-CoV2 is suggested to be one of nearly 900 zoonotic pathogens that have made the leap from nonhuman animals to human populations over millennia. Emerging evidence suggests we return the favor, according to  officially reported SARS-CoV-2 human infections in 23 nonhuman animal species, including not only big cats like tigers and lions but also domestic cats and dogs, gorillas, white-tailed deer, hamsters, farmed mink, otters, anteaters, manatees, hippopotamuses, and others, according to the World Organization for Animal Health.

There remains another issue, not frequently discussed. Technological advances in the sciences have outstripped our ability to fully comprehend what we can now observe and the intricate interdependencies of nature still elude us. A lot of what we see published is nothing more than an educated guess based on unfolding models. We may or may not be on the right track and the huge amount of conflicting opinion supports the fact that virology and its related fields are far from an exact science.

To date, no zoonotic reservoir or intermediary has been identified for the SARS-COV2 virus.

Theory 2. Man amplifies existing virus, dooms the world.

Subtitled: Wuhan, the Capital of Coincidences

I’ve written extensively on this topic during the last three years and you will find links to these articles interspersed below. For the sake of continuity, some of this older content is repeated, and has, where new information has emerged, been updated to reflect the ever evolving narrative. The information deals only with verifiable, known facts and where I digress into opinion, it will be clearly stated.

To fully understand what unfolds below, lets kick of with GOF research, as it plays an integral part of the man-made theory.

Gain of Function (GOF)

Gain-of-function research refers to the serial passaging of microorganisms to increase their transmissibility, virulence, immunogenicity, and host tropism by applying selective pressure to a culture. So in other words, in layman’s terms, it’s about creating something nastier, tougher, and more deadly than the original by manipulating it in a laboratory, for whatever purpose, military, scientific, or otherwise.

To level the playing field however, associating Gain of Function research as being mutually exclusive to influenza or coronaviruses is patently wrong. The field is immense and it is incorrect to equate GOF studies only with influenza transmission experiments. Virology is founded on adaptation approaches, and these have broad utility because they provide phenotypic evidence of a genotypic change when combined with a discriminatory biological assay.

Used responsibly, GOF is an incredibly useful and some would argue, essential tool in the virologists arsenal. Inadequate or flawed safety and ethics protocols are however commonplace in research laboratories where GOF is undertaken, particularly in countries like China. Without being dramatic, pursuing GOF research without properly ensuring its safety, could lead to an extinction-level event. Us being the species we wipe out. It’s an unlikely, but not impossible consequence.

For further reading, including the 2014 US moratorium on GOF, follow this link. Also you may be interested to know that another outbreak of the H1N1 strain in 1977 (the one that caused the Great Flu in 1918) was caused by a laboratory leak of the virus. You can read more about that here.

WIV or the Wuhan Institute of Virology

The Wuhan Institute of Virology. Photo courtesy of http://english.whiov.cas.cn/

At the center of the web of coincidences surrounding the virus origin, sits the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or WIV, and one of it’s employees, a scientist affectionately known as batwoman. The WIV comes equipped with a biosafety laboratory, and of course, the facility works on coronaviruses, particularly the SARS-COV virus. That’s where batwoman comes into the picture.

Chinese virologist, Dr. Zheng-li Shi started out as a research assistant at the Wuhan Institute for Virology (WIV), with a focus on aquatic viruses. She trained in France and later pivoted to bats in 2004 after SARS broke out. She is widely recognized as a leader in the field and to facilitate her research, she has spent years collecting bats from caves across China, investigating how the coronavirus can jump from animal to human. Said bats are relocated to the Institute (where else) for further study.

Safety Levels in Laboratories handling Biohazards

SARS has not naturally recurred since 2003, but there have been six separate “escapes” from virology labs studying it: one each in Singapore and Taiwan, and in four distinct events at the same laboratory in Beijing.

Many instances involving the accidental release of pathogens have taken place in labs around the world. Hundreds of breaches have occurred in the U.S., including a 2014 release of anthrax from a U.S. government lab that exposed 84 people. The SARS virus escaped four times from the Chinese National Institute of Virology in Beijing causing four infections and one death and also escaped facilities in Singapore and Taiwan.

Despite our best efforts, we cannot ensure viruses used in GOF remain secure. China, unfortunately, has a reputation for lax safety protocols, and the WIV is no exception. In 2014 scientists calling themselves the Cambridge Working Group urged caution on creating new viruses. In what may have been prescient words, they specified the risk of creating a dangerous virus.

“Accident risks with newly created ‘potential pandemic pathogens’ raise grave new concerns,” they wrote. “Laboratory creation of highly transmissible, novel strains of dangerous viruses, especially but not limited to influenza, poses substantially increased risks. An accidental infection in such a setting could trigger outbreaks that would be difficult or impossible to control.”

If you’re thinking we ever learn, think again. In 2021 SARS-COV2 once again escaped from a high level biosecurity laboratory in Taiwan by infecting a laboratory worker. Clearly, we do not have sufficient technical prowess to deal safely with the viruses we create and collect.

Follow the Money

Did the NIH and the NIAID fund GOF research in Wuhan, or didn’t they? Enter the EcoHealth Alliance and Dr Peter Daszak, one of the strongest proponents (naturally) for the natural origin theory. More on that later. The short answer is an absolute, resounding yes. To avoid this article turning into a novel, you can reference the hard evidence in an article I published in 2021. Ironically, if you’re an American, your tax dollars may very well have contributed directly to the pandemic.

The referenced article does not deal with Dr Anthony Fauci’s role in this sordid saga, but given the volume of evidence that has emerged recently, you are free to draw your own conclusions regarding the extent of his involvement with EcoHealth Alliance and Peter Daszak.

That pesky Furin cleavage site

As discussed earlier, one of the most prominent features of the virus relates to its S protein, in particular, the furin cleavage site, that, and the receptor binding domain (RBD) in the S protein is highly specific. So specific in fact, that many virologists took one look at them and had the same thought. Engineered. Not by nature, but by a far more malicious entity, man.

And that brings us back nicely to our friend from EcoHealth Alliance, Peter Daszak. What follows is possibly either the greatest attempt to cover tracks in the history of science or intentional misdirection to further an alternate agenda. We may never know the true motivation, but we know the facts. Daszak lied.

On February 19th of 2020, a group of virologists and others published a letter in the Lancet on the origin, in their professional opinions, of the virus. This extract is taken directly from said letter.

“We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,”

The author of this letter was none other than Peter Daszak and the signatories to it included Charles Calisher, Dennis Carroll, Rita Colwell, Ronald B Corley, Christian Drosten, Luis Enjuanes, Jeremy Farrar, Hume Field, Josie Golding, Alexander Gorbalenya, Bart Haagmans, James M Hughes, William B Karesh, Gerald T Keusch, Sai Kit Lam, Juan Lubroth, John S Mackenzie, Larry Madoff, Jonna Mazet, Peter Palese, Stanley Perlman, Leo Poon, Bernard Roizman, Linda Saif, Kanta Subbarao and Mike Turner (no relation).

Now under normal circumstances, this statement of support for their poor beleaguered Chinese colleagues would have been in good form, and the strongly worded endorsement of a natural origin for the virus, well within their rights, however, on the release of emails from the NIH and EcoHealth Alliance under a Freedom of Information request, it came to light that Peter Daszak (whom you will note declared no conflicting interests) was pursuing an alternative agenda. One he had coerced other signatories to agree to, amny of whom workerd for, or were involved with EcoHealth Alliance.

An article highlighting the extent of the coercion was published in the U.S. Right to Know website on the day the statement was published in the Lancet. Titled “EcoHealth Alliance orchestrated key scientists’ statement on “natural origin” of SARS-CoV-2” the article’s introduction leaves no doubt as to its intent.

Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know show that a statement in The Lancet authored by 27 prominent public health scientists condemning “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin” was organized by employees of EcoHealth Alliance, a non-profit group that has received millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer funding to genetically manipulate coronaviruses with scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Now, if I am not mistaken, that looks pretty conflicted to me. The extent of the funding Peter Daszak and EcoHealth Alliance received can be viewed here. One of Dr Fauci’s last acts as director of the NIAID before retiring in late 2022 was to award one final lump sum to EcoHealth Alliance, despite dismal failures by the company to account for, or produce records relating to their involvement with WIV and the GOF research undertaken there.

Peter Daszak intentionally sought, and still seeks, to influence public and scientific opinion on the origins of the virus to deflect attention from the elephant in the room.

Since 2010, scientists, in particular, one Ralph. S Baric, had known that coronaviruses use the spike protein to gain a foothold in their human hosts. Baric published a paper in 2010 entitled “Recombination, reservoirs, and the modular spike: mechanisms of coronavirus cross-species transmission” and was widely recognized as one of the leading figures experimenting on modifying the spike protein.

No prizes for guessing where Baric found gainful employment. He has developed genetic techniques to enhance the pandemic potential of existing bat coronaviruses, working in collaboration with Dr. Zheng-li Shi at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and with the EcoHealth Alliance. Coincidence after coincidence.

Moderna and Pfizer drive the nail home

Lest we forget, both Moderna and Pfizer produced almost identical mRNA based vaccines in record time. In fact, Moderna had theirs ready to go on the 28th of January, 2020. Impressive you say, but what does this have to do with the virus origins? Perhaps nothing and perhaps everything.

We know Moderna was heavily invested in pursuing a vaccine for coronaviruses and was intimately familiar with the SARS-COV virus. The company would no doubt have been privy to the research being carried out in Wuhan and may well have met with early success against newly engineered strains, particularly if they knew specifically how these strains interacted with our bodies. Almost a case of putting the cart before the horse.

Pure conjecture on my part, of course, but far from unlikely.

Putting the facts aside

Given the unending list of coincidences surrounding Wuhan, it would seem statistically impossible for the virus to have originated anywhere else. If I were a betting man I would also most certainly place my cash on Theory 2, as each coincidence further reduces the likelihood of natural origin. Which then raises one final question which must be broached, as unpleasant as it may be.

If the virus did indeed originate from within the WIV, was it’s release into the wild intentional or accidental?

Profiteering and Smoking Guns

Perhaps the final straw on the wobbling camel-of-natural-origins back is provided by the billionaires, new and old, that profited immensely from the death and chaos that unfolded post 2019. How profitable was/is the pandemic? Here are a few eye watering numbers to make you wish you’d followed a career path in virology.

Now while every bloke is entitled to an honest days wage, whatever their profession, profiteering from a global event you may directly, or indirectly, have initiated tends to raise an eyebrow. It provides an excellent motive for aiding and abetting the virus’s escape and while the likelihood is that the leak was unintentional and purely down to poor security protocols, if there was indeed a leak, we cannot, until proven otherwise, dismiss any of the theories swirling around Wuhan.

Profit, of course is not the only motivating factor, as conspiracy theorists will be quick to point out. Population control on a global scale requires mass vaccination, which, of course is easily justified in the face of a global viral threat. Who would engage in such monstrous evils? Why the elites of course, with fingers pointing towards the likes of Klaus Schwab (chairman of the World Economic Forum, currently meeting in Davos as I write this, to plan their next move), Bill Gates and others.

There may very well be a “smoking gun” that will inadvertently turn up somewhere in the years that follow, a shooter emerging from the grassy knoll, that confirms finally, one way or another where SARS-COV2 originated. I suspect the virus itself will offer up the final answers. As our technology improves, definitively identifying natural and engineered viral sequences in minutes will become a reality. It will also make detailed analysis of the “vaccines” possible, essential for restoring trust in medicines we use to treat billions.

So to return to the original pandemic question. Where did our current coronavirus originate? We may never know with certainty, our best bet being an educated guess based on snippets we’re told are facts, buried in the shifting sands of political opinion and scientific agendas. I made a choice in 2021, to believe that when presented with coincidence upon coincidence, we’d be fools to try and disprove the obvious conclusions these coincidences point to. Let’s disprove the obvious first and then look to natural origin.

Perhaps after evaluating the history of the last three years, you’ll join me on that side of the wall.

Missed Part 4 of the Covid Files on When is a vaccine not a vaccine? Catch up here.

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Editors ChoiceOn the Origin of Covid. With Apologies to Darwin
Robert Turner, Founding Editorhttps://medkoin.health
Robert is a Founder of Medika Life. He is a published author and owner of Cre8tive Digital Media. He lives between the Philippines and the UK. and is an outspoken advocate for human rights. Access to basic healthcare and eradicating racial and gender bias in medicine are key motivators behind the Medika website and reflect Robert's passion for accessible medical care globally.
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