The chance that SARS-CoV-2 emerged naturally from animals in China is “one in a million”, according to top scientists who say the world risks biological world war if controversial “gain of function” research into viruses is not shut down immediately.
Steven Quay and Richard Muller said the evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was engineered in the Wuhan Institute of Virology and leaked accidentally – killing about six million people globally – was now “overwhelming” and was being ignored mainly for career or political reasons.
Professor Muller, 77, an astrophysicist from the University of California, Berkeley, said the pandemic had illustrated the next world war would be “biological, not nuclear”.
“If you have a bioweapon and a vaccine for your own people, you can wreak devastation on economies of competing countries with very little loss to yourself. This is a genuine threat,” he said at a conference organised by the Hudson Institute in Washington DC.
Dr Quay, the chief executive of Nasdaq-listed Atossa Therapeutics and author of hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers, said advances in vaccines and virus research had “opened the floodgates where you can have a bio weapon in the morning and have a vaccine in the afternoon”.
He said the probability that SARS-CoV-2 emerged naturally, based on the evolution of SARS-CoV-1 and MERS, was “literally one in a million”.
Their presentation, which accused Chinese scientists of concealing the manufactured origins of Covid-19, came as US President Joe Biden met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Geneva, but the pair appeared not to discuss US and Australian demands for greater co-operation from China on a fresh inquiry into the origins of the virus.
“We brought this up but just briefly, in passing,” the Russian President said at his post-summit press conference.
Last month, the US government ordered its intelligence agencies to conduct a 90-day inquiry into the origins of Covid following doubts about the quality of an inconclusive World Health Organisation report, tabled in March.
Dr Quay revealed Wuhan Institute scientist Shi Zhengli had herself published evidence in January 2020 that conceded the virus had emerged suddenly in humans. “But she realised the implications, because that sentence is no longer in (the final version of her) paper,” he said.
He said the WHO report had “censored” the earliest cases of Covid, which were found outside the Wuhan wet market. “This is not science, this is obfuscation,” Dr Quay added.
Professor Muller said there were concerns scientists would be “blacklisted and labelled an enemy of China” if they pursued the “lab leak” theory.
“That meant that China was exercising control over US freedom of speech. US scientists didn’t even want to discuss the issue for fear of what China would do. That is a very frightening conversation,” he said.
David Asher, a Hudson Institute senior fellow and former senior State Department official, said the two scientists were “among the top scientists globally who have actually tried to develop hard scientific proof for a lab leak”.