COVID-19 -- Who benefits?

When a Roman magistrate investigated a crime, he asked, Cui bono — who benefits?  It turns out that when it comes to COVID-19, lots of people and institutions benefit.

Perhaps the most startling aspect of the COVID story is that the National Institutes of Health financed research to genetically engineer coronaviruses at China's Wuhan Institute of Virology.  The research was aimed at making the viruses more infectious in humans.  The NIH used the Eco-Health Alliance, headed by Peter Daszak, as a cut-out to disguise its involvement.

If this research was legitimate, why wasn't it done at a secure lab in the United States?  This runaround has obvious potential for abuse.  An unscrupulous researcher could invest in an appropriate vaccine-maker, release the Franken-virus, and go home with a fantastic profit.  We saw something like this type of motivation with the 2001 anthrax mailings, where the perpetrator seems to have been an anthrax researcher with patents and vested interests.

Vaccine-making is an astonishingly profitable field to be in these days.  The COVID vaccines created nine new billionaires, including Moderna's Stéphan Bancel, who is worth $4.3 billion.  Even China got three COVID billionaires.

There was also money to be had in keeping China from being held responsible.  The most extensively researched account of COVID's origin is by Catherine Eban in Vanity Fair.  Eban shows that, in the first instance, the lab leak theory wasn't some "fringe" right theory, as Democrats alleged.  It was, instead, the first thought of scientists with a variety of backgrounds when they heard that there was a coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, including Wuhan researcher and "bat lady" Shi Zhengli.

Wuhan is in central China but novel diseases, including SARS and new strains of flu, tend to originate in southern China.  What Wuhan has, though, is the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which specializes in coronavirus research.

At first, those trying to steer attention away from the Virology Institute focused suspicion on a wild animal sold at the city's Huanan Seafood market.  Several cases of COVID, however, predate the infections associated with this market.  In any case, this market is not known to sell wild animals.

A letter published by the medical journal The Lancet on February 19, 2020 effectively ruled out of bounds any discussion about a non-natural origin for COVID, at least as far as the medical community was concerned.  "We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin," the letter said.  It was later revealed that Daszak originated this letter.

On January 31, 2020, Kristian Andersen, who was researching this issue for a story in Nature Medicine, sent an email to Anthony Fauci, head of the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key player in the coronavirus story, stating that "[o]ne has to look really closely at all the sequences to see that some of the features (potentially) look engineered."

Andersen made a startling turnaround four days later, denouncing the genetic engineering theory as "crackpot."  What happened in the meantime?  He had a conference call with Fauci and received a research grant worth millions.

A lab leak certainly isn't the only possibility.  The latest research on COVID's origin focuses on Enshi, a town that is a six-hour drive west of Wuhan.  Once it had six wet markets and 290 wildlife farms.  These were suddenly closed on December 23, 2019, a week before news of the COVID outbreak appeared in the international press.  The caves nearby are home to at least seven types of horseshoe bat, the kind of bat thought to be the natural reserve for both SARS and COVID.

But back to the Wuhan Institute — why is it there?  Wuhan, formerly known as Hankow, was a treaty port, or international city, from 1886 to 1943.  It has long been France's window on China, with 40 percent of French Chinese investment.

The French provided designs and technical assistance for the lab.  They expected that French companies would get lucrative contracts and that fifty French researchers would be employed.  China went with a domestic contractor instead.

Once the Chinese got the technical and design assistance they were looking for, they no longer wanted to hear the French bother them about safety and other issues.  All France got out of the deal was a large, framed picture of President Jacques Chirac on an inside wall at the lab.  The lab opened in January 2018, without the more meticulous safety protocols common in the West.  The COVID outbreak began a little more than a year later.

There's money in these labs.  A total of 59 biosafety Level 4 labs, similar to the Wuhan lab, are being built in various countries.  Saudi Arabia, Gabon, and the Ivory Coast are all getting virus labs of their own.  Whether or not COVID came from a lab leak or was driven by a profit motive, the problem of lab leaks will become increasingly serious as time goes on.

Peter Kauffner lives in Sequim, Washington.

Correction: Anthony Fauci is the head of the NIAID, not the NIH.  We regret the error.

Image: Researcher.  Public domain.

To comment, you can find the MeWe post for this article here.