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US non-profit responds to claims it brought close relative of Covid-19 virus to Wuhan

US non-profit responds to claims it brought close relative of Covid-19 virus to Wuhan
An American nonprofit behind the US-funded bat virus research in China has denied sending virus samples from Laos – where the closest natural relative of SARS-CoV-2 was found – to Wuhan in response to new allegations.

“No work was ever conducted in Laos as a part of this collaborative research project,” EcoHealth Alliance – a group that conducted experiments on coronaviruses while receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – said in a series of tweets on Sunday, responding to media reports alleging that the group might have transported a potentially dangerous virus from Laos to the laboratory in Wuhan.

The group’s name surfaced in October when the NIH’s principal deputy director, Lawrence Tabak, revealed that EcoHealth Alliance did experiments on the viruses with the agency’s financial help. At the time, White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci stated that the viruses “were distant enough molecularly that no matter what you did to them, they could never, ever become SARS-CoV-2.”

EcoHealth Alliance has come under renewed scrutiny after emails obtained through a Freedom of Information request appeared to indicate that the group was discussing the possibility of collecting viral samples from bats in Laos and sending them to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The emails were initially obtained by the White Coat Waste Project and sparked a flurry of reports over the weekend, including in the Spectator by British science writer Matt Ridley.

The emails shared between EcoHealth Alliance and its US government funders reportedly reveal that the scientists discussed collecting viral samples from bats in eight countries, including in Laos, between 2016 and 2019, and toyed with the idea of transporting them to Wuhan – apparently, to avoid red tape. One email from 2016 cited by the Spectator reportedly reads: “All samples collected would be tested at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

Laos is the birthplace of at least one virus that seems to be very close to SARS-Cov-2. A bat viral strain called Banal-52 discovered in Laos in September shares 96.8% of its genome with the virus behind the Covid-19 pandemic

On Sunday, EcoHealth Alliance claimed that the emails cited by Ridley “do not show... that we were sampling bats in Laos and sending the results to Wuhan.”

The group acknowledged, however, that it requested NIH permission to work in Southeast Asian countries, including Laos, and that permission was granted. 

However, the nonprofit claimed it ended and focused on China instead.

The response was not satisfactory for Ridley, who is also the co-author of a book on the origins of Covid-19, and he has demanded evidence showing that his report was not “fully accurate.”

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