Details of a teleconference on the COVID-19 pandemic response held in early 2020 between leading scientists including Dr. Anthony Fauci remain shrouded in secrecy after the U.K. government heavily redacted documents requested by a newspaper.
The U.K. Daily Mail submitted a Freedom of Information request to its government for emails relating to the secretive meeting between British and American health officials. The requestwas answered by a cache of 32 emails that were almost entirely redacted, leaving the details of what was discussed on that teleconference call unknown, the paper reported.
What is known is that in the early days of the pandemic, a group of scientists led by Fauci, Dr. Jeremy Farrar, the director of the London-based megacharity Wellcome Trust, and Peter Daszak, the president of EcoHealth Alliance, among others, held the call "in total confidence" and that after the call, the public campaign by many of the participants to stifle discussion of the lab-leak theory intensified.
Before the conference call, some of the world's top virologists who participated had raised concerns that the emerging SARS-CoV-2 virus had features that "(potentially) look engineered" — but after this call those scientists reversed their opinions and publicly condemned the hypothesis that COVID-19 escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology as a conspiracy theory.
Since the call was held on February 1, 2020, EcoHealth Alliance's ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology have come to light, and Fauci's repeated assurances that the U.S. National Institutes of Health did not fund risky virus research at the Wuhan lab have been shown to be false. It is in the public interest to learn what was discussed on the call, to know if top health officials had a conflict of interest in publicly discrediting the lab-leak theory.
However, the Daily Mail reports how the U.K. government is obscuring the details of the call:
The Mail on Sunday requested emails, minutes and notes on the call between Sir Patrick Vallance – Britain's chief scientific adviser – and its organisers Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust medical charity, and Anthony Fauci, the US infectious diseases expert and presidential adviser.
Yet when the documents were released they had page after page redacted with thick lines of black ink by Whitehall officials. Even the names of experts copied in on discussions were blocked – and exchanges as trivial as one Edinburgh biologist's 'thank you' for being invited – leaving only a few basic details about the call visible.
The lines left intact include a demand for the discussions, involving 13 participants around the world, to be conducted in 'total confidence', and an intriguing email line suggesting 'we need to talk about the backbone too, not just the insert'.
That was possibly sent by Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans, a member of the World Health Organisation team that produced a widely criticised report into Covid's origins.
According to the Daily Mail, a request for communications on the origins of COVID-19 between Sir Patrick Vallance, the U.K.'s chief scientific adviser, Farrar, and Fauci were "rejected on cost grounds," even though the government said it had the information requested.
"Such absurd state secrecy is highly contemptuous towards taxpayers and to a world that wants to know what caused this devastating pandemic to guard against similar catastrophes in the future," the paper complained.
"Such official obfuscation only serves to fuel concerns over a possible cover-up on Covid's origins – and about Britain's strange silence on issues of such global importance, which surprises some close international allies."
Reporters first learned of the conference call from a Freedom of Information Act request for Fauci's work-related emails issued by BuzzFeed News. Emails detailing the specifics of what was discussed were redacted. In an interview with USA Today, Fauci said the call was a "productive back-and-forth conversation where some on the call felt [SARS-CoV-2] could possibly be an engineered virus."
Details of the call were also discussed by Farrar in his book on the pandemic, where admits to being "50-50" on the question of the lab-leak theory after the Feb. 1 call, even though days later he would sign a highly influential statement by leading scientists condemning the lab-leak hypothesis as a conspiracy theory.
Another participant on the call, Dr. Kristian Andersen, a virologist at Scripps Research, had studied the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 and wrote in an email to Fauci just before the call that "some of the features (potentiallly) look engineered." He also said that several experts who had looked at the virus "find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory," though he would later claim that these scientists changed their opinions as new evidence convinced them it was more likely the virus originated in nature.
A mere three days after the conference call, Andersen emailed Daszak to strategize about pushing back against "crackpot theories" suggesting "this virus being somehow engineered with intent" when that was "demonstrably not the case."
The public ought to know why these scientists changed their opinions so rapidly in light of the fact that many of them were connected to 2014 and 2019 NIH research grants for gain-of-function research in China.
Gain-of-function research involves genetically manipulating a virus to make it more transmissible among mammals, particularly among humans, to study how virus might evolve in nature and develop vaccines or strategies to prevent a pandemic. The 2014 research grant was funded at a time when the U.S. had established a moratorium on federal funding for such research, which had been deemed risky because of the possibility that a lab accident might cause a pandemic.
The 2019 grant proposal revealed that Daszak's group EcoHealth Alliance had sub-awarded NIH money for bat coronavirus research in Wuhan, China.
Documents published by DRASTIC further revealed that in 2018, EcoHealth Alliance applied for a grant to study pathogens to create infectious bat coronaviruses in the Wuhan lab that would be altered to boost their ability to infect human cells. Daszak had proposed to work with Shi Zhengli, the top virologist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, to insert "appropriate human specific cleavage sites" into SARS-like viruses, demonstrating that EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan lab were interested in conducting exactly the kind of research that is hypothesized to be related to the origins of COVID-19.