Speaking in an interview with CBS, American scientist Peter Daszak, who has collaborated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology for years, stated there is no evidence showing COVID-19 was connected to a lab in China, and then, two weeks ago, had his coronavirus research project in China grant terminated by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Daszak is a British-born American zoologist who's spent a career discovering dangerous viruses in wildlife and the president of a nonprofit research organization EcoHealth Alliance. The organization has worked for 15 years with the Wuhan Institute of Virology and cataloged hundreds of bat viruses, research that is critical amid the current outbreak.
He said in an interview with 60 Minutes, the network's flagship news program, that the pandemic crossed over from wildlife. Dr. Elodie Ghedin, a molecular parasitologist and virologist at New York University, reconfirmed the virus is not engineered by humans.
“There's just no evidence that anybody had it in a lab anywhere in the world prior to the outbreak,” said Ghedin, adding that most experts believe the virus passed from a wild animal to humans. She emphasized that the virus is clearly not an engineered one, according to its genetic information, and there are no similar viruses in the Wuhan lab inventory.
However, EcoHealth’s research funding has been cut after a political disinformation campaign was launched to smear China, even though the researchers are working on a breakthrough drug for COVID-19, which is getting ready to be tested.
Maureen Miller, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, told CBS this is the very first time that NIH grants were terminated without any solid reason. “It stops the research that's essential to understanding where pandemics like the one we're going through, where they start.”
US President Donald Trump lashed out at CBS on Twitter, accusing the network of seeking potential business benefits from taking a stance of defending China. It is not very surprising that Trump is targeting China and ignored scientists’ opinions, now that the US has become the epicenter of the pandemic.
Other politicians have followed suit in blaming China. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attempted to present a debunked theory that the virus was a lab construct from Wuhan, despite the US director of national intelligence saying days before there was "wide scientific consensus" the virus was not man-made.
Attacking China has been incorporated into the campaign strategy of US presidential candidates for decades, and the blame game is getting uglier this year as the Trump administration is struggling with flattening the curves of losses in lives and livelihoods.
“This politicization of science is really damaging. The conspiracy theories out there have essentially closed down communication between scientists in China and scientists in the US,” Daszak said at the end of the interview.
“We need that communication in an outbreak to learn from them how they control it so we can control it better. It's sad to say, but it will probably cost lives. With a narrow-minded focus on us or on labs, or on certain cultural politics, we miss the real enemy.”