On 29 June, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announces that it was sending a team of experts to China to investigate the initial source of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, amid a plethora of speculation about the origins of the deadly infectious disease, which has so far claimed lives of nearly 533,800 people across the world.
Sir Richard Dearlove, formerly chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), warned on Sunday against dismissing the possibility of the coronavirus pandemic having originated in a Chinese laboratory as a groundless conspiracy theory, according to Sky News.
The former spy, who served as the MI6 chief in the period between 1999 and 2004, said that he believes that the virus was man-made at a Chinese lab before accidentally escaping due to bio-security flaws and setting off a global pandemic.
“I subscribe to the theory… that it’s an engineered escapee from the Wuhan Institute [of Virology]. I am not saying anything other than it was the result of an accident and that the virus is the consequence of gain-of-function experiments that were being conducted in Wuhan, which I don’t think are particularly sinister,” Dearlove said, referring to a type of scientific research that can be conducted to modify viruses, as cited by the outlet.
Dearlove’s comments came as a group of experts from the World Health Organisation is expected to travel to China to conduct a probe into the origin of the novel virus that caused the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is an accumulation of evidence that this is something that has to be openly discussed in the scientific community,” Dearlove said. “If we are going to have an inquiry in the UK – which I’m sure will happen – about the pandemic and government policy, it will have to start with the science. Where did this virus actually come from?”
Commenting on the UK and US intelligence communities’ rejection of the idea that the COVID-19 was man-made at a laboratory and their support of the theory that the respiratory virus emerged in animals, such as bats or pangolins, before jumping to the human in China’s Wuhan Province, the former MI6 boss said the agencies “haven’t read the science” nor “attempted to understand it”.
“I am just staggered. They clearly haven’t read the science. And they haven’t attempted to understand it. The onus is now on the leadership of China to explain why the theory and the hypothesis that it could be engineered is wrong,” he said, adding that his opinion was shaped in part by works of British clinical scientists working on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Due to speculations about the origin of coronavirus, China has been put under global pressure to explain the details of how the novel respiratory virus first originated in its city of Wuhan in late 2019, with US President Donald Trump administration claiming the virus was developed at a laboratory in Wuhan.
The Chinese government has vehemently dismissed all speculations regarding the origins of COVID-19, claiming the outbreak began in a “wet market” in Wuhan.
On 30 April, the US National Intelligence Director’s office said in a statement that they believe the COVID-19 virus that first originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan was not man-made or genetically modified.
UK government officials have also dismissed the lab theory, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesperson saying, “We’ve seen no evidence the virus is man-made.”