Bat Viruses? Puppy Experiments? Fact-Checking Critics’ Latest Claims About Dr. Fauci.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is facing a storm of new conservative-led criticism that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — which he’s led for decades — funded everything from risky coronavirus research in China to unnecessary experiments on dogs; here, we break down the outrageous and not-so-outrageous new claims, and the evidence supporting them.

Key Facts

Claim: House Republicans claim a letter sent to them by the National Institutes of Health last week “confirmed” a 2018-2019 study in the Chinese city of Wuhan involved gain-of-function research, a contentious method of studying viruses by enhancing them — despite denials from Fauci that the NIH funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan.

Context: The NIH letter said mice unexpectedly “became sicker” during an experiment in Wuhan involving bat coronaviruses whose spike proteins were replaced — but it didn’t mention gain-of-function research, and Fauci and NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins argued last week the study didn’t meet the definition of gain-of-function, though several experts still told the New York Times and The Intercept this kind of research is risky.

Claim: Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) told Fox News last week the NIH letter “proves all along that this virus was started in the Wuhan lab,” tying it to months of insinuations from Republicans that Covid-19 began after a virus leaked from a lab.

Context: These bat viruses “could not possibly have caused the COVID-19 pandemic” because they’re too genetically distinct, the NIH says, an argument seconded by many scientists and the EcoHealth Alliance, the nonprofit recipient of the Wuhan NIH grant.

Claim: Separately, in recent weeks, lawmakers like Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) have chastised NIAID for funding “barbaric and gruesome” experiments on dogs, including studies allegedly exposing dogs to insects, cutting their vocal cords or euthanizing them.

Context: NIAID defended its dog experiments in a statement: It said researchers need to follow federal guidelines on humane treatment of animals, and dogs are sometimes given vocal cordectomies “humanely under anesthesia” to cut down on hazardous noise.

Claim: News outlets and advocates have spread photos of beagles from Tunisia whose heads were put in mesh cages filled with flies, part of a parasitic disease study that initially cited NIH funding when it was published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Context: NIAID told Forbes it actually “did not support this specific research,” and PLOS spokesperson David Knutson says the journal is issuing a correction to clarify the study’s funding was “erroneously attributed to the US National Institutes of Health.”

Chief Critic

Fauci has served as the director of NIAID — part of the NIH — since 1984, but he earned mainstream fame after Covid-19 emerged, and his support for public health measures like mask-wearing and social distancing has driven criticism from conservatives. In recent months, he’s also clashed with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) over the NIH’s ties to bat virus research in Wuhan. Most notably, during an explosive July hearing, Paul accused Fauci of lying about whether this work involved gain-of-function methods, and Fauci insisted the NIH hasn’t funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan.

Key Background

Gain-of-function research is ill-defined, and opinions on the practice vary widely. Some scientists view it as a useful way of predicting viruses’ future trajectory, but critics warn modifying viruses could pose a biosafety risk. The NIH paused gain-of-function studies for certain viruses in 2014, and three years later, it reopened this research but added extra scrutiny for any experiments that could enhance pathogens’ effectiveness against humans. However, the Wuhan research — which studied various coronaviruses — wasn’t subject to these additional rules because the bat viruses under study weren’t known to infect people, the NIH claimed in last week’s letter to Republicans on the House Oversight Committee.

Surprising Fact

The NIH’s letter to Republicans also said EcoHealth Alliance was required to report any growth in disease for its experiment beyond a certain threshold, but it “failed to report this finding right away.” NIH’s leader Collins told the Washington Post the group “messed up here,” though its findings weren’t necessarily dire. But EcoHealth spokesperson Robert Kessler told Forbes it believes these claims were a “misconception about the grant’s reporting requirements,” saying the group reported the data in question to the NIH in 2018.

What We Don’t Know

Some of this acrimony is tied to uncertainty about the pandemic’s origin. Fauci and many experts think the virus most likely jumped from animals to humans naturally and argue there’s insufficient evidence to suggest the virus escaped from a laboratory, but other scientists say an accidental leak from a lab is still a plausible theory, and Fauci and the Biden administration say they haven’t ruled out this possibility yet.

Still, even if the virus leaked from a lab, the NIH says the viruses studied in the Wuhan lab with EcoHealth Alliance’s participation were “very far distant from SARS-CoV-2,” the virus linked to Covid-19. Likewise, Kessler said none of those viruses “bear a close enough resemblance to the virus that causes COVID-19 to have played any role in its emergence.” And in his July exchange with Fauci, Paul said he isn’t necessarily alleging the NIH’s research specifically caused Covid-19.


Some conservative pundits tied their anger over NIH-funded dog research to broader complaints about Fauci, but dog experiments have been controversial for years. NIAID says its rules around animal testing aim to “ensure the smallest possible number of subjects and the greatest commitment to their welfare,” and argues this research is useful. One study blasted by activists used dogs as an “appropriate model” to test a vaccine for a brutal mosquito-borne parasite, NIAID told Forbes, and another study in Tunisia — which it said is separate from the experiment that placed dogs’ heads in cages — investigated a vaccine for a common parasite by letting dogs roam in an “enclosed open space” during sandfly season.

However, advocates cast this research as cruel and unnecessary. Justin Goodman from the White Coat Waste Project, an anti-animal experimentation group often critical of Fauci, told Forbes in a statement the group’s concerns are “not about photos in Tunisia — or any one beagle lab. It’s about Dr. Fauci’s widespread and long pattern of wasteful and punishing puppy abuse.”

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I am a breaking news reporter at Forbes. I previously covered local news for the Boston Guardian, and I graduated from Tufts University in 2019. You can contact me at or on Twitter at @joewalshiv

Source: Bat Viruses? Puppy Experiments? Fact-Checking Critics’ Latest Claims About Dr. Fauci.


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Inside the UK’s Post-Brexit Economy: Why Investors Should Have an Eye on London

London is firmly open for business, and that is a message emanating from the gleaming towers of the city, the corridors of government and the flashing screens of the stock exchange.

wo years ago, the British press was full of news about leaving the European Union (which the UK did formally on January 31, 2020). It was a theme which had dominated the media for years, and there seemed little sign of it changing. Then, news began to emerge of a strange new respiratory virus in a Chinese city called Wuhan…

Now, the worst excesses of COVID-19 seem to be abating, and parts of the world are starting to shake off the strictures of lockdown. We have found, perhaps to our surprise, that life goes on. It is very far from business as usual—adaptation is one of the key skills of the new economic landscape—nevertheless, the world keeps turning, and we must turn with it.

So, what is it like in the UK? What are the opportunities for entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders? How has the landscape changed? Is the UK economy different than it was before?

At the moment, London is a thriving center for the tech industry, home to more than 60 unicorns, according to the annual report of growth platform Tech Nation. Some are growing at an extraordinary rate: DivideBuy, a lending platform, reported average growth of 20,733 percent over a three-year period, while Popsa, a photobook specialist, went up 10,576 percent. And IPOs are on the rise, too; technology and consumer internet listings accounted for more than half of total capital raised in the first six months of 2021.

This development should be prominently on the radar of investors and others. London has traditionally lagged behind the U.S. for tech floatations, but the momentum is firmly on the eastern side of the Atlantic right now. One reason is that tech is becoming understood in a broader context; it is no longer just software and social media, but the heart which drives platforms in all sectors—and that is where London gains an advantage.

The capital has strength in depth in areas like energy, telecommunications and financial services, and that infrastructure increasingly gives it the edge over not just Amsterdam or Frankfurt but even New York. Observers from the U.S. should also be aware of the emerging regulatory environment. The UK government sponsored a review of how companies raise money on the capital markets, led by former cabinet minister and EU commissioner Lord Jonathan Hill of Oareford.

Its recommendations were published with a distinctly deregulatory flavor and have been warmly welcomed by the UK Treasury. Chancellor Rishi Sunak remarked: “Our vision is for a more open, greener and more technologically advanced financial services sector.” That vision is being delivered on a number of fronts. The prospectus regime for companies seeking finance will be reviewed and made “less burdensome” (code for less exhaustive and rigorous).

The government also intends to relax the rules on dual-class shares, allowing differentiated voting rights but only for up to five years and with a maximum voting ratio limited to 20:1. The free float requirements will also be reduced from 25 percent to 15 percent.

All of this is a strong sign of intent. The political establishment has argued bitterly over a vision for the UK after Brexit, but a constant theme has been the creation of a free-market, light-touch-regulation, agile trading hub modelled in part on Singapore and the ghost of colonial Hong Kong. The current conservative administration, pandemic notwithstanding, has a buccaneering wind in its sails, and the effects on investment are clear.

However, there is something more, something besides share prices and rules and floatations. There is, unquestionably, a new mood in the City of London. Like any financial hub, it still bears the scars and the bloodied hands of the financial crisis. But financial services are growing in confidence, beginning to point to the contribution they make to the wider economy and realizing that they have somehow survived the worst of the pandemic.

This new mood combines relief—life, as I noted earlier, goes on—and eager openness. The UK has much to prove in the wake of Brexit, as witnessed by the hyperactivity of international trade secretary Elizabeth Truss, forging deals around the world. Early predictions of the collapse of UK financial services have been proved wrong.

Fund managers are looking at new regulation changes; the overall European market is fracturing among Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Dublin, Luxembourg and Paris; and current estimates are that only 7,400 jobs have been relocated from London to other European centers.

London is firmly open for business, and that is a message emanating from the gleaming towers of the city, the corridors of government and the flashing screens of the stock exchange. There is a sense that anything is possible. Anyone who works in business or finance should prick up their ears, and maybe look at upcoming flights to London.


By: Eliot Wilson

Eliot Wilson is the cofounder of Pivot Point, a change management, strategy and PR consultancy based in London.

Source: Inside the UK’s Post-Brexit Economy: Why Investors Should Have an Eye on London – Worth


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After Months as a Covid Success Story, China Tries to Tame Delta

In the battle against the coronavirus, few places seemed as confident of victory as China.

The country of 1.4 billion people had eradicated the virus so quickly that it was one of the first in the world to open up in spring last year. People removed their masks and gathered for pool parties. In recent months, the government has contended with sporadic outbreaks in various provinces, but stamped them out swiftly by mobilizing thousands of people to test and trace infections, as well as locking down communities.

That model is now looking increasingly fragile in a world that passed a grim milestone on Wednesday: the 200 millionth recorded case of infection.

China is facing its biggest challenge since the virus first erupted in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year: the highly transmissible Delta variant that is rapidly spreading throughout the country. Chinese officials have acknowledged that curbing this outbreak will be much harder than the others, owing to the fast and asymptomatic spread of the variant.

Globally, the virus is continuing to infect at an astonishing rate. It took more than a year for the pandemic to reach its 100 millionth case, and little more than six months to double that.

While the number of cases in China are still relatively low compared to the United States and elsewhere, these new outbreaks — happening in cities such as Nanjing, Wuhan, Yangzhou and Zhangjiajie — are showcasing the limitations of China’s zero-tolerance approach to Covid. They may also undermine the ruling Communist Party’s argument that its authoritarian style has been an unquestionable success in the pandemic.

Although the government had to stamp out a Delta flare-up in June in Guangdong Province, authorities this time are dealing with a much larger spread. Since the current Delta outbreak started on July 21, the number of cases has risen to 483, more than the sum total of infections from the first five months of the year. By Tuesday afternoon, the virus had spread to 15 of the 31 provinces and autonomous regions in China.

“Once it reaches so many provinces, it’s very hard to mitigate,” said Chen Xi, an associate professor of public health at Yale University. “I think this would be surprising and shocking to the rest of the world. Such a powerful government has been breached by Delta. This will be a very important lesson — we cannot let our guard down.”

Last week, Sun Chunlan, a vice premier of China, blamed “ideological laxity” for the Delta outbreaks and urged officials to step up their prevention efforts. “We cannot relax for a moment,” Ms. Sun said.

Some public health experts in the country say it is time for China to rethink its Covid strategy. In a recent essay, Zhang Wenhong, who advises the Chinese government on dealing with Covid-19, floated the idea of following a model similar to that of Israel and Britain, in which vaccination rates are high and people are willing to live with infections.

For now, China has stuck to the same strict playbook. Across the country, the government has instructed people not to travel unless necessary. In the cities of Zhangjiajie and Zhuzhou, 5.4 million people have been barred from leaving their homes. Roughly 13 million residents in the city of Zhengzhou, the site of deadly floods in July, had to stand in line for virus testing starting last weekend.

In Nanjing, where the recent Delta cases first appeared, millions of residents have had to participate in four rounds of testing.

A vaccination event in Wuhan in June. Part of the challenge for Beijing is that the Chinese-made vaccines are not as effective against the Delta variant.

“It’s just torturing the masses,” said Jiang Ruoling, a resident in Nanjing, who has been tested four times in the last three weeks. Ms. Jiang, who works in real estate, said she understood the need for testing, but was still critical of officials for failing to control the latest outbreak. “The leaders are actually wasting resources and everyone’s time,” she said.

Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said China’s “containment-based” strategy would not work in the long run, particularly as new variants continue to emerge. “It will become extremely costly to sustain such an approach,” he said.

And yet China appears unwilling to take any chances. In Wuhan, the authorities on Tuesday started testing all 12 million residents after only three cases of the Delta variant were discovered. The cities of Sanmenxia and Zhuhai have also begun mass testing. In Beijing, where there are five infections, train service from 23 cities has been canceled.

Jennifer Huang Bouey, a senior China policy expert and an epidemiologist at the RAND Corporation, said that even with strict controls, it may not be realistic for officials in China to get these latest cases down to zero. “I think they may have to prepare people for a higher tolerance of Covid,” Dr. Huang said.

Part of the challenge for Beijing is that the Chinese-made vaccines being used to immunize the country are not as effective against the Delta variant as other shots. The government says it has already administered about 1.69 billion doses. Health officials are now considering giving booster shots to people with compromised immune systems as well as older citizens.

Zhong Nanshan, a top epidemiologist, said China’s vaccines are 100 percent protective against severe disease caused by Delta, and 63.2 percent effective against asymptomatic cases. He said he was confident that the latest outbreak would be controlled in about 10 to 14 days, during which officials hope to carry out extensive contact tracing in Nanjing and several other cities in Jiangsu Province.

The current Delta cases have been linked to a flight from Moscow that landed in Nanjing on July 10. Seven passengers on the flight were infected with the variant. On July 20, nine airport cleaners tested positive. Their infections spread quickly among people who entered the airport, a major transportation hub.

A mother and daughter and a 12-year-old girl who flew to Zhangjiajie after transiting for two hours in the Nanjing airport have all tested positive. Three other tourists who traveled to Zhangjiajie have been linked to an outbreak in the central city of Changde, after they all took a river cruise. About 27 infections in at least six places have been linked to the boat ride.

Cases have also spread in Yangzhou among “chess and card” rooms — poorly ventilated spaces where many older patrons gather to play mahjong, chess and cards. Local officials are offering rewards of several thousand renminbi to whistle-blowers who find and report on people who have been in these rooms.

The Beijing subway during rush hour on Wednesday. Officials have allowed people to continue using public transportation during the Delta outbreak.

“The situation has not yet bottomed out, Wu Zhenglong, the governor of Jiangsu Province, said at a news conference on Sunday. “The prevention and control situation is severe and complicated.

Han Xiaoyi, a 23-year-old resident in Nanjing, said she was furious at the way the government had initially handled the Delta outbreak in her city. Officials have allowed people to continue going to work in crowded subways and buses, she said.

Ms. Han, who works in sales, has had to take time off to stand in line for hours to get tested four times in recent days. “When it started, I felt really depressed because at first, it felt like the pandemic was far away from me,” she said. “Then suddenly, it felt like it was back in my midst.”



China’s GDP Surge Is Chance To Reboot Country’s Image On World Stage

China’s economy had a great 12 months, leading the globe out of the Covid-19 era. Yet the last year has damaged something equally important: Beijing’s soft power.

Beijing’s handling of questions about what happened in Wuhan—and why officials were so slow to warn the world about a coming pandemic—boggles the mind. If China’s handling of the initial outbreak was indeed the “decisive victory” that it claims, why overreact to Australia’s call for a probe?

Harvard Kennedy School students might one day take classes recounting how China’s leaders squandered the Donald Trump era. As the U.S. president was undermining alliances, upending supply chains, losing allies, and playing down the pandemic, Beijing had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to increase the country’s influence at Washington’s expense.

And now, many in Beijing appear to understand the extent to which they blew it. Earlier this month, Xi Jinping urged the Communist Party to cultivate a “trustworthy, lovable and respectable” image globally. It’s the clearest indication yet that the “wolf warrior” ethos espoused in recent times by Chinese diplomats was too Trump-like for comfort—and backfiring.

The remedy here is obvious: being the reliable economic engine leaders from the East to West desire.

The Trump administration’s policies had a vaguely developing-nation thrust—favoring a weaker currency, banning companies, tariffs of the kind that might’ve worked in 1985, assaulting government institutions. They shook faith in America’s ability to anchor global finance. The last four years saw a bull market in chatter about replacing the dollar as reserve currency and the centrality of U.S. Treasury debt.

China is enjoying a burst of good press for its gross domestic product trends. Not just for the pace of GDP, but the way Xi’s team appears to be seeking a more balanced and sustainable mix of growth sources. Though some pundits were disappointed by news that industrial production rose just 6.6% in May on a two-year average basis, it essentially gets Asia’s biggest back to where it was pre-Covid-19.

China is getting there, slowly but surely. Far from disappointing, though, data suggest Xi’s party learned valuable lessons from the myriad boom/bust cycles that put China in global headlines since 2008. That was the year the “Lehman shock” devastated world markets and threatened to interrupt China’s meteoric rise.

Instead, Beijing bent economic reality to its benefit. Yet the untold trillions of dollars of stimulus that then-President Hu Jintao’s team threw at the economy caused as many long-term headaches as short-term gains. It financed an unproductive infrastructure boom—one prioritizing the quantity of growth over quality—that fueled bubbles. It generated a moral-hazard dynamic that encouraged greater risk and leverage.

Unfortunately, Xi’s government doubled down on the approach in 2015, when Shanghai stocks went into freefall. The impulse then, as in the 2008-2009 period, was to throw even more cash at the problem—treating the symptoms, not the underlying ailments.

The ways in which Team Xi restored calm—bailouts, loosening leverage and reserve requirement protocols, halting initial public offerings and suspending trading in thousands of companies—did little to build a more nimble and transparent system. The message to punters was, no worries, the Communist Party and People’s Bank of China have your backs. Always.

Yet things appear to be changing. In 2020, while the U.S., Europe and Japan went wild with new stimulus schemes, Beijing took a targeted and minimalist approach. Japan alone threw $2.2 trillion, 40% of GDP, at its cratering economy. The Federal Reserve went on an asset-buying tear.

The PBOC, by sharp contrast, resisted the urge to go the quantitative easing route. That is helping Xi in his quest to deleverage the economy. It’s a very difficult balancing act, of course. The will-they-or-won’t-they-default drama unfolding at China Huarong Asset Management demonstrates the risks of hitting the stimulus brakes too hard.

The good news is that so far China seems to be pursuing a stable and lasting 2021 recovery, not the overwhelming force of previous efforts. And that’s just what the world needs. A 6% growth rate year after year will win China more soft-power points than the GDP extremes. So will China accelerating its transition from exports to an innovation-and-services-based power.

It’s grand that President Joe Biden rapidly raised America’s vaccination game. That means the two biggest economies are recovering simultaneously, reinforcing each other.

China’s revival could have an even bigger impact. Look at how China’s growth in recent months is lifting so many boats in Asia. In May alone, Japan enjoyed a 23.6% surge in shipments to China. Mainland demand for everything from motor vehicles to semiconductor machinery to paper products is helping Japan recover from its worst downturn in decades. South Korea, too.

The best thing Xi can do to boost China’s soft power is to lean into this recovery, and provide the stability that the rest of the globe needs. Xi should let China’s GDP power do the talking for him.

I am a Tokyo-based journalist, former columnist for Barron’s and Bloomberg and author of “Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan’s Lost Decades.” My journalism awards include the 2010 Society of American Business Editors and Writers prize for commentary.

Source: China’s GDP Surge Is Chance To Reboot Country’s Image On World Stage



The economy of China is a developing market-oriented economy that incorporates economic planning through industrial policies and strategic five-year plans. Dominated by state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and mixed-ownership enterprises, the economy also consists of a large domestic private sector and openness to foreign businesses in a system described as a socialist market economy.

State-owned enterprises accounted for over 60% of China’s market capitalization in 2019 and generated 40% of China’s GDP of US$15.66 trillion in 2020, with domestic and foreign private businesses and investment accounting for the remaining 60%. As of the end of 2019, the total assets of all China’s SOEs, including those operating in the financial sector, reached US$78.08 trillion. Ninety-one (91) of these SOEs belong to the 2020 Fortune Global 500 companies.

China has the world’s second largest economy when measured by nominal GDP, and the world’s largest economy since 2014 when measured by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), which is claimed by some to be a more accurate measure of an economy’s true size.It has been the second largest by nominal GDP since 2010, which rely on fluctuating market exchange rates.An official forecast states that China will become the world’s largest economy in nominal GDP by 2028.Historically, China was one of the world’s foremost economic powers for most of the two millennia from the 1st until the 19th century.

The Chinese economy has been characterized as being dominated by few, larger entities including Ant Group and Tencent. In recent years there has been attempts by the Xi Jinping Administration to enforce economic competition rules, and probes into Alibaba and Tencent have been launched by Chinese economic regulators.

The crackdown on monopolies by tech giants and internet companies follows with recent calls by the Politburo against monopolistic practices by commercial retail giants like Alibaba. Comparisons have been made with similar probes into Amazon in the United States.

See also

Inside the Global Quest to Trace the Origins of COVID19 and Predict Where It Will Go Next


It wasn’t greed, or curiosity, that made Li Rusheng grab his shotgun and enter Shitou Cave. It was about survival. During Mao-era collectivization of the early 1970s, food was so scarce in the emerald valleys of southwestern China’s Yunnan province that farmers like Li could expect to eat meat only once a year–if they were lucky. So, craving protein, Li and his friends would sneak into the cave to hunt the creatures they could hear squeaking and fluttering inside: bats.

Li would creep into the gloom and fire blindly at the vaulted ceiling, picking up any quarry that fell to the ground, while his companions held nets over the mouth of the cave to snare fleeing bats. They cooked them in the traditional manner of Yunnan’s ethnic Yi people: boiled to remove hair and skin, gutted and fried. “They’d be small ones, fat ones,” says Li, now 81, sitting on a wall overlooking fields of tobacco seedlings. “The meat is very tender. But I’ve not been in that cave for over 30 years now,” he adds, shaking his head wistfully. “They were very hard times.”

China today bears little resemblance to the impoverished nation of Li’s youth. Since Deng Xiaoping embraced market reforms in 1979, the Middle Kingdom has gone from strength to strength. Today it is the world’s No. 2 economy and top trading nation. It has more billionaires than the U.S. and more high-speed rail than the rest of the world combined. Under current strongman President Xi Jinping, China has embarked on a campaign to regain “center place in the world.” Farmers like Li no longer have to hunt bats to survive.

Dubbed RaTG13, Shi’s virus has a 96.2% similarity with the virus that has claimed some 600,000 lives across the world, including more than 140,000 in the U.S. Shi’s discovery indicates COVID-19 likely originated in bats–as do rabies, Ebola, SARS, MERS, Nipah and many other deadly viruses.

But how did this virus travel from a bat colony to the city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak was first documented? And from there, how did it silently creep along motorways and flight routes to kill nurses in Italy, farmers in Brazil, retirees in Seattle? How this virus entered the human population to wreak such a devastating toll is the foremost issue of global scientific concern today. The search for “patient zero”–or the “index case,” the first human COVID-19 infection–matters. Not because any fault or blame lies with this individual, but because discovering how the pathogen entered the human population, and tracing how it flourished, will help the science and public-health communities better understand the pandemic and how to prevent similar or worse ones in the future.

On top of the millions of lives that hang in the balance, Cambridge University puts at $82 trillion across five years the cost to the global economy of the current pandemic. The human race can ill afford another.

The provenance of COVID-19 is not only a scientific question. The Trump Administration also regards it as a political cudgel against Beijing. As the U.S. has failed to control outbreaks of the coronavirus and its economy founders, President Donald Trump has deflected blame onto China.

Trump and senior Administration figures have dubbed COVID-19 the “China virus” and “Wuhan virus.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there was “enormous evidence” the virus had escaped from Shi’s lab in the city. (He has yet to share any hard evidence.) “This is the worst attack we’ve ever had on our country. This is worse than Pearl Harbor. This is worse than the World Trade Center,” Trump said in May of the pandemic, pointing the finger at China. In response, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused the U.S. President of trying to foment a “new cold war” through “lies and conspiracy theories.”

The origin of the virus is clearly a touchy subject. Nevertheless, the world desperately needs it broached. Australia and the E.U. have joined Washington’s calls for a thorough investigation into the cause of the outbreak. On May 18, Xi responded to pressure to express support for “global research by scientists on the source and transmission routes of the virus” overseen by the World Health Organization.

Partisan bickering and nationalism threaten to eclipse the invaluable scientific work required to find the true source of the virus. Time is of the essence; a SARS vaccine was within touching distance when research that could have proved invaluable today was discontinued as the crisis abated. “Once this pandemic settles down, we’re going to have a small window of opportunity to put in place infrastructure to prevent it from ever happening again,” says Dr. Maureen Miller, a Columbia University epidemiologist.


The search for the virus’s origins must begin behind the squat blue-shuttered stalls at Wuhan’s Huanan seafood market, where the outbreak of viral pneumonia we now know as COVID-19 was first discovered in mid-December. One of the first cases was a trader named Wei Guixian, 57, who worked in the market every day, selling shrimp out of huge buckets. In mid-December she developed a fever she thought was a seasonal flu, she told state-run Shanghai-based the Paper. A week later, she was drifting in and out of consciousness in a hospital ward.

Of the first 41 patients hospitalized in Wuhan, 13 had no connection to the marketplace, including the very first recorded case. That doesn’t necessarily excuse the market as the initial point of zoonotic jump, though–we don’t know yet for certain how many COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic, but research suggests it could be as high as 80%. And, even if Huanan market wasn’t where the virus first infected humans, it certainly played a huge role as an incubator of transmission. At a Jan. 26 press conference, the Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection revealed 33 of 585 environmental samples taken after the market was shut Jan. 1 tested positive for the virus. Of these, 31 were taken in the western section where wildlife was sold.

In May, China acceded to demands for an independent inquiry after more than 100 countries supported a resolution drafted by the E.U. Still, President Xi insists it must be “comprehensive”–looking not just at China but also at how other nations responded to the WHO’s warnings–and cannot begin until after the pandemic has subsided. “The principles of objectivity and fairness need to be upheld,” Xi told the World Health Assembly. (Notably, inquiries into the 2009 H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic and 2014 West African Ebola outbreak began before the crises had abated.) According to past investigations’ protocols, teams are composed of independent public-health experts and former WHO staff appointed by the WHO based on member states’ recommendations. At a practical level, however, any probe within China relies on cooperation from Beijing, and it’s uncertain whether the U.S. will accept the findings of a body Trump has slammed for “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”

Artwork by Brea Souders for TIME; Shutterstock (3)

There are many who look at where COVID-19 emerged and see something that can’t be just a co-incidence. In 2017, China minted its first biosecurity-level 4 (bsl-4) laboratory–the highest level cleared to even work with airborne pathogens that have no known vaccines–in Wuhan. Ever since, the country’s foremost expert on bat viruses has been toiling away inside the boxy gray buildings of the WIV. Indeed, when Shi first heard about the outbreak, she herself thought, “Could they have come from our lab?” she recently told Scientific American. An inventory of virus samples reassured her that it hadn’t, she added, yet that hasn’t stopped some from maintaining their suspicions.

Mistakes do happen. The last known case of small-pox leaked from a U.K. laboratory in 1978. SARS has leaked from Chinese laboratories on at least two occasions, while U.S. scientists have been responsible for mishandlings of various pathogens, including Ebola. There are only around 70 bsl-4 laboratories in 30 countries. Suspicions regarding the nature of research under way inside the Wuhan laboratory persist. According to one leading virologist, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of jeopardizing funding and professional relationships, “Were you to ask me where’s the most likely place in the world for a naturally occurring bat coronavirus to escape from a laboratory, Wuhan would be in the top 10.”

Still, neither the WHO nor the Five Eyes intelligence network–comprising the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand–has found evidence that COVID-19 originated from Shi’s lab. Canberra has even distanced itself from a U.S.-authored dossier that sought to convince the Australian public that the Five Eyes network had intelligence of a Chinese cover-up. (It appeared to rely exclusively on open-source material.) Meanwhile, scientific peers have rallied to defend Shi from suspicion. “She is everything a senior scientist should be,” says Miller, who has collaborated with Shi on various studies. The Wuhan Institute of Virology did not respond to requests for comment.

Available evidence suggests COVID-19 leaped from wild animal to human. Tracing exactly how is crucial. It enables governments to install safeguards regarding animal husbandry and butchery to prevent any repeat. SARS, for example, originated in bats and then infected a palm civet, a catlike mammal native to South and Southeast Asia. The animal was then sold at a wet market–where fresh meat, fish and sometimes live animals are sold–in Guangdong, from which it jumped to humans. In the wake of that outbreak, which claimed at least 774 lives worldwide, palm civets were banned from sale or consumption in China. Bats may have been the initial reservoir for SARS-CoV-2, but it’s likely that there was an intermediary before it got to humans, and that’s where the possibilities grow. Bats share Shitou Cave with starlings, for one, and at least one large white owl nests in its upper reaches. Herds of black and white goats graze the dusty shrub all around the cave opening, while the Yi ethnic group traditionally rear and eat dogs. Bat guano is also traditionally prized as a fertilizer on crops.

That COVID-19 originated in bats and then jumped to humans via a pangolin intermediary is now the most likely hypothesis, according to multiple studies (although some virologists disagree). Up to 2.7 million of the scaly mammals have been plucked from the wild across Asia and Africa for consumption mostly in China, where many people believe their scales can treat everything from rheumatoid arthritis to inflammation. Their meat is also highly prized for its supposed health benefits.

On Feb. 24, China announced a permanent ban on wildlife consumption and trade, scratching out an industry that employs 14 million people and is worth $74 billion, according to a 2017 report commissioned by the Chinese Academy of Engineering. It’s again extremely sensitive. President Xi is an ardent supporter of TCM and has promoted its use globally. The total value of China’s TCM industry was expected to reach $420 billion by the end of this year, according to a 2016 white paper by China’s State Council. And rather than raising the possibility that misuse of TCM sparked the outbreak, Chinese state media has lauded–without evidence–the “critical role” TCM has played in the treatment of COVID-19 patients. In an apparent attempt to head off criticism related to the pandemic, draft legislation was published in late May to ban any individual or organization from “defaming” or “making false or exaggerated claims” about TCM. Cracking down on the illicit animal trade would go a long way toward preventing future outbreaks. But as demand for meat grows across increasingly affluent Asia, Africa and Latin America, the potential for viruses to spill over into human populations will only increase.

It probably wasn’t blind luck that Li and his friends didn’t get sick from their hunting expeditions in Shitou Cave. Research by Columbia’s Miller with WIV’s Shi, published in 2017, found that local people were naturally resistant to SARS-like viruses. Examining their lifestyle habits and antibodies can help deduce both mitigating factors and possible therapies, while pinpointing which viruses are particularly prone to infecting humans, potentially allowing scientists to design vaccines in advance. “They are the canaries in the coal mine,” says Miller.

The page signaled the first confirmed U.S. case of COVID-19. The patient was a Washington State resident who had recently returned from visiting family in Wuhan, where the disease was spreading rapidly. Aware of his higher risk, and concerned when he developed a fever, the 35-year-old (who wishes to remain anonymous) visited an urgent-care center where he told health care providers about his travel history. They notified the state health department, which in turn helped the care center send a sample for testing to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta–at the time, the only labs running COVID-19 tests. When the test was positive, CDC scientists recommended the patient be hospitalized for observation. And Diaz’s team was paged.

A trained ambulance team arrived at the man’s home, moved him into a specially designed mobile isolation unit, and drove 20 minutes to Providence Regional. There, the patient couldn’t see who greeted him; everyone assigned to his care was garbed in layers of personal protective equipment. Once in his room, he spoke to medical staff only through a tele-health robot equipped with a screen that displayed their faces, transmitted from just outside the room.

A nurse carefully swabbed the back of his nose and pharynx for a sample of the virus that had brought him to the hospital. Not only was he the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S., he was also the first in the country to have his virus genetically sequenced. As the index patient in the U.S., his sequence, named WA1 (Washington 1), served as the seed from which experts would ultimately trace the genetic tree describing SARS-CoV-2’s path from person to person across communities, countries and the globe, as it mutated and either died out or moved on with renewed vigor to infect more people.

Genetic sequencing is a powerful tool to combat viruses’ fondness for mutating. Viruses are exploitative and unscrupulous; they don’t even bother investing in any of their own machinery to reproduce. Instead, they rely on host cells to do that–but it comes at a price. This copying process is sloppy, and often leads to mistakes, or mutations. But viruses can sometimes take advantage of even that; some mutations can by chance make the virus more effective at spreading undetected from host to host. SARS-CoV-2 seems to have landed on at least one such suite of genetic changes, since those infected can spread the virus even if they don’t have any symptoms.

Since the first SARS-CoV-2 genome was published and made publicly available online in January, scientists have mapped the genomes of over 70,000 (and counting) samples of the virus, from patients in China, the U.S., the E.U., Brazil and South Africa, among others. They deposited those sequences into the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID), a publicly available genetic database created in 2008 initially to store and share influenza genomes. During the coronavirus pandemic, it has quickly pivoted to become a clearinghouse for tracking the genetics of SARS-CoV-2, enabling scientists to map the virus’s march across continents and detail its multipronged attack on the world.

“We have genomes from researchers and public-health labs from all over the world on six continents,” says Joel Wertheim, associate professor of medicine at University of California, San Diego. “It provides us with unique insight and confidence that other types of epidemiological data just cannot supply.” Relying on the GISAID sequences, Nextstrain has become a virtual watering hole for scientists–and increasingly public-health officials–who want to view trends and patterns in the virus’s genetic changes that can help inform decisions about how to manage infections.

If genetic sequencing is the new language for managing infectious-disease outbreaks, then the mutations that viruses generate are its alphabet. If paired with information on how infected patients fare in terms of their symptoms and the severity of their illness, genomic surveillance could reveal useful clues about which strains of virus are linked to more severe disease. It might shed light on the mystery of why certain victims of the virus are spared lengthy hospital stays and life-threatening illness. As nations start to reopen, and before a vaccine is widely available, such genetic intel could help health care providers to better plan for when and where they will need intensive-care facilities to treat new cases in their community.

Genetic information is also critical to developing the most effective drugs and vaccines. Knowing the sequence of SARS-CoV-2 enabled Moderna Thera-peutics to produce a shot ready for human testing in record time: just two months from when the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 was first posted. Even after a vaccine is approved and distributed, continuing to track genetic changes in SARS-CoV-2 to ensure it’s not mutating to resist vaccine-induced immunity will be critical. The data collected by Nextstrain will be crucial to help vaccine researchers tackle mutations, potentially for years to come. Already, the group advises the WHO on the best genetic targets for the annual flu shot, and it plans to do the same for COVID-19. “We can track the areas of the virus targeted by the vaccine, and check the mutations,” says Emma Hodcroft from the University of Basel, who co-developed Nextstrain. “We can predict how disruptive those mutations are to the vaccine or not and tell whether the vaccines need an update.”

After Diaz’s patient tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, Washington State public-health officials diligently traced the places the patient had been and the people he’d come in contact with. He had taken a ride-share from the airport, gone to work and enjoyed lunch at a seafood restaurant near his office with colleagues. But because so little was known about the virus at the time, these contact tracers were focusing mostly on people with symptoms of illness–and at the time, none of the patient’s contacts reported them. The genetics, however, told a different story.

Seattle happened to have launched a program in 2018 to track flu cases by collecting samples from patients in hospitals and doctors’ offices, sites on college campuses, homeless shelters, the city’s major international airport and even from volunteers with symptoms who agreed to swab their nasal passages at home. Those that were positive for influenza and other respiratory illnesses had their samples genetically sequenced to trace the diseases’ spread in the community. As COVID-19 began to emerge in the Seattle area at the end of February, Bedford and his colleagues began testing samples collected in this program for SARS-CoV-2, regardless of whether people reported symptoms or travel to China, then the world’s hot spot for the virus. That’s how they found WA2, the first case in Washington that wasn’t travel-related. By comparing samples from WA1, WA2 and other COVID-19 cases, they figured out that SARS-CoV-2 was circulating widely in the community in February.

If that community-based sequencing work had been conducted earlier, there’s a good chance it might have picked up cases of COVID-19 that traditional disease-tracking methods, which at the time focused only on travel history and symptoms, missed. That would have helped officials make decisions about a lockdown sooner, and might have helped to limit spread of the virus. SARS-CoV-2 moves quickly but mutates relatively slowly, for a virus–generating only about two mutations every month in its genome. For drug and vaccine developers, it means the virus can still evade new treatments designed to hobble it. Those same changes serve as passport stamps for its global trek through the world’s population, laying out the itinerary of the virus’s journey for geneticists like Bedford. The cases in the initial Seattle cluster, he says, appear to have all been connected, through a single introduction directly from China to the U.S. in mid- to late January. Until the end of February, most instances of SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S. piggybacked on unwitting travelers from China. But as the pandemic continued, that changed.

Bedford’s team began to see mutations in samples from Seattle that matched samples from people in Europe and the U.S.’s East Coast. “At the beginning we could kind of draw a direct line from viruses circulating in China to viruses circulating in the Seattle area,” says Bedford. “Later, we see that viruses collected from China have some mutations that were seen later in Europe, and those same mutations were seen in viruses in New York. So, we can draw another line from China to Europe to New York” and then on to Seattle. The virus had begun multiple assaults into the U.S.

TIME Graphic by Emily Barone and Lon Tweeten

Around the world, virologists were seeing similar stories written in the genes of SARS-CoV-2. In January, a couple from Hubei province arrived in Rome, eager to take in the sights of the historic European city. By Jan. 29, they were hospitalized at Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases with fever and difficulty breathing. Tests confirmed they were positive for SARS-CoV-2.

Bartolini, a virologist at the hospital, and her colleagues compared the genetic sequences from a sample taken from the wife to sequences posted on GISAID. The Italian researchers found it matched five other samples from patients as far-flung as France, Taiwan, the U.S. and Australia. SARS-CoV-2 was clearly already on a whirlwind tour of the planet.

Not all strains of SARS-CoV-2 are equally virulent; some branches of its genetic tree are likely to grow larger and sprout further offshoots, while others terminate more quickly, says Harm van Bakel, assistant professor of genetics and genomic sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. His team conducted the first genetic sequencing analysis of cases in New York City, which quickly became a U.S. hot spot; by March the city had seen a half a dozen or so separate introductions of SARS-CoV-2, but only two resulted in massive spread of the virus. The remainder petered out without transmitting widely.

Retrospectively, there’s no way to tell for sure if these two strains were simply in the right place at the right time–in a particularly densely populated area of the city, for example, or in an area where people congregated and then dispersed to other parts of the city–or if they were actually more infectious. But determining the genetic code of a circulating virus early may help scientists and governments decide which strains are worth worrying about and which aren’t.

From analyzing genetic sequences from 36 samples of patients in Northern California, Dr. Charles Chiu, professor of laboratory medicine and infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco, says it might have been possible to identify the major circulating strains and track how they spread if more testing were available to know who was infected–and use this information to guide quarantine and containment practices. “There was a window of opportunity that if we had more testing and more contact-tracing capacities available early on, we likely would have prevented the virus from gaining a foothold at least in California,” he says.

Ongoing genetic sequencing can also help officials tailor narrower strategies to quell the spread of a virus. It wasn’t long after Beijing reopened following two months of lockdown that infections began creeping up again in June. Sequencing of the new cases revealed that the viruses circulating at the time shared similarities with viruses found in patients in Europe, suggesting the cases were new introductions of SARS-CoV-2 and not lingering virus from the original outbreak. That helped the Chinese government decide to implement only limited lockdowns and testing of people in specific apartment blocks around a food market where the cluster of cases emerged, rather than resort to a citywide quarantine.

And there are other, less obvious ways that genetic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 could help to predict surges in cases as people emerge from lockdown. Italian scientists have sampled wastewater from sewage treatment plants in northern cities where the pandemic flourished, and found evidence of SARS-CoV-2 weeks before the first cases showed up to flood the hospitals. In La Crosse, Wis., Paraic Kenny, director of the Kabara Cancer Research Institute of the Gundersen Health System, applied the same strategy in his hometown in the spring. A few weeks later, in mid-June, when cases of COVID-19 surged because of bars reopening in downtown La Crosse, Kenny compared samples from infected people with the viral genomes in his wastewater samples. They were a genetic match. The same strain of SARS-CoV-2 had been circulating in the community weeks before the cases were reported. “In principle, an approach like this can be used to not just ascertain how much virus is in the community, but maybe give hospitals and public-health departments a warning of when to anticipate a surge in cases,” he says. The goal is to know not just where we are today but where we will be a week or two from now.

It has been 100 years since an infectious disease pushed the entire world’s population into hiding to the extent that COVID-19 has. And the primary approaches we take to combatting emerging microbes today are likewise centuries old: quarantine, hygiene and social distancing. We may never learn exactly where SARS-CoV-2 came from, and it’s clearly too late to prevent it from becoming a global tragedy. But extraordinary advances in scientific knowledge have given us new tools, like genetic sequencing, for a more comprehensive understanding of this virus than anyone could have imagined even a decade or two ago. These are already providing clues about how emerging viruses like SARS-CoV-2 operate and, most important, how they can be thwarted with more effective drugs and vaccines.



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