Technology futurist and geopolitical expert Jamie Metzl believes the COVID-19 pandemic was a â€œtotally preventable eventâ€� and is calling for a full and unrestricted international forensic investigation into the origins of COVID-19, lest an even worse disaster occur in the future.1
In the interview above, which shows a clip from the Joe Rogan Experience, he explains why he believes the most likely scenario is that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, accidently leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
A more in-depth explanation can be found in an open letter,2 of which Metzl was the lead drafter, which states that finding the true origins of SARS-CoV-2 is critically important to not only address the current pandemic but to reduce the risk of pandemics of the future.
Problems With COVID Origins From the Start
In 2019, Metzl was appointed to the World Health Organization expert advisory committee on human genome editing.3 This is important because, as Metzl himself stated, heâ€™s a supporter of WHO.
Yet, even he acknowledged thereâ€™s a â€œbig problem,â€� and it began in the earliest days of the pandemic, when WHO inspectors werenâ€™t able to go to Wuhan, China, to properly investigate because the Chinese government wouldnâ€™t give them visas.4
WHO has essentially been parroting the rhetoric of the Chinese government because they donâ€™t have authority to have their own surveillance network in the area. Itâ€™s problematic, too, because WHO is being tasked with investigating and potentially calling out China, which is one of their member states â€” a member state with a lot of influence.
Metzl states that the accidental laboratory leak hypothesis is a logical conclusion for a number of reasons. â€œThe evidence is actually really strong,â€� he said. â€œItâ€™s all circumstantial evidence, but we donâ€™t have ANY evidence of the other hypotheses of where COVID comes from, like a series of different jumps through animals in the wild.â€�5
On the contrary, Peter Daszak, EcoHealth Alliance president who is also part of the WHO team investigating the origins of SARS-CoV-2 and has a long history of close ties to the Chinese laboratory in question â€” the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) â€” told The Associated Press in November 2020 that SARS-CoV-2 could have passed from a wildlife poacher to a trader who brought it to Wuhan.6
Others have also pushed the idea that SARS-CoV-2 arose and evolved naturally, skipping from one animal species to another before ultimately developing the capability of infecting humans.
It was also suggested that the virus got to humans from a wet market in Wuhan, where live animals, including bats, are sold for food. However, according to Metzl, â€œI knew early on that this whole story of the wet market was a lie, and the Chinese government knew and for many, many months pushed that story, even knowing it wasnâ€™t true.â€�7
COVID-19 Lab Leak Likely
So, what is the circumstantial evidence that SARS-CoV-2 came from a lab, and not from a wet market or other zoonotic transmission? Metzl explained:8
â€œWhen this outbreak began, for me, one of the reasons why I started to get suspicious very early on is that Iâ€™ve been in Wuhan â€¦ itâ€™s not a place where a bunch of locals are eating bats. Wuhan is a really sophisticated city. Itâ€™s their Chicago, and I knew they didnâ€™t have horseshoe bats in Wuhan.â€�
Further, Wuhan is far from the southern part of China where horseshoe bats (the supposed source host) exist. Metzl continued, â€œAs a matter of fact, when the outbreak happened, it was winter there, and so there werenâ€™t bats there.â€�9 Adding additional support to this theory is a paper published in The Lancet in January 2020, which reviewed details about the first 41 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Wuhan.10
Of the 41 patients, only 27, or 66%, had been exposed to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan. The paper â€œmade clear that one-third of first COVID cases had no exposure to the wet market,â€� Metzl said. â€œIf everything started in the wet market, all of the early cases would have had exposure to the market.â€�11
Even the earliest case â€” a person who became ill December 1, 2019 â€” had no link to the market.12 Speaking with Science, Daniel Lucey, an infectious disease specialist at Georgetown University, also regarded the 13 patients with no link to the market as significant. â€œThatâ€™s a big number, 13, with no link,â€� she said. â€œThe virus came into that marketplace before it came out of that marketplace.â€�13
The other curious thing about SARS-CoV-2, even compared to other coronaviruses like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), is that itâ€™s ready made for getting to humans. Metzl explained that with the first SARS, researchers were able to track how the virus jumped between species, mutating in order to become more able to infect humans.
â€œIn the comparative studies of different animals and humans, humans are most susceptible to SARS-CoV-2,â€� Metzl said. â€œSomehow, you have to explain how this virus shows up, kind of seemingly out of nowhere, in Wuhan, ready for action, ready to fully infect humans.â€�14
Wuhan Epicenter of Gain of Function, Bat Coronavirus Research
Finding patient zero, or the first person to be infected with SARS-CoV-2, is one of the big questions still waiting to be answered. If the zoonotic origin hypothesis is true, this would mean that the virus spread among animals, such as from bats to pangolins, then infected a human, who just happened to show up in Wuhan.
One reason Metzl and a growing group of others think this is far-fetched is because Wuhan is home to WIV; itâ€™s the only city in China with a level 4 virology institute. WIV researchers have been conducting experiments involving the bat coronavirus RaTG13 â€” the closest known relative to SARS-CoV-2, with 96.2% similarity â€” since at least 2016.
In 2012, six miners working in a copper mine with known bats present were infected with a bat coronavirus and developed COVID-19-like symptoms. RaTG13 was sampled from the mine where the miners were infected.15 WIV has also been involved in gain-of-function research with bat coronaviruses.
Gain-of-function studies involve increasing the capacity of a pathogen to cause illness. The method is controversial because it can also risk new viruses leaking out of laboratories and into the population. Given the circumstances, the chances of a person who got the virus zoonotically ending up in Wuhan are slim. According to Metzl:16
â€œWhat are the chances that that patient zero just happened to show up in Wuhan, the only city in China that has a level four virology institute, that has the worldâ€™s largest collection of bat coronaviruses, that is doing gain-of-function research trying to make them more virulent, particularly trying to make them more able to infect human cells.
If patient zero is just somebody who had an exposure to an animal, the mathematical odds of that person just showing up in Wuhan would be, actually, kind of absurd.â€�
Who Is Patient Zero?
If the lab leak hypothesis is true, patient zero would be someone who works at WIV or someone exposed to a virus that escaped from WIV via waste, an escaped animal or another accident.
Huang Yan Ling was a researcher at WIV who worked closely with Shi Zhengli, Ph.D., the director of WIVâ€™s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, also known as â€œbat woman.â€� She has been studying bat-borne viruses since 2004, including SARS-like coronaviruses.
Many believe Ling is patient zero for the COVID-19 pandemic, but sheâ€™s now missing. Her profile and biography are missing from WIVâ€™s website, but, after rumors surfaced that she was presumed dead, the Chinese government posted a notice on WIVâ€™s site saying sheâ€™s alive and well. No proof of this was offered, however.
A message reportedly appeared on Chinaâ€™s WeChat messaging service claiming to be from Ling and stating, â€œTo my teachers and fellow students, how long no speak. I am Huang Yanling, still alive. If you receive any email [regarding the Covid rumor], please say itâ€™s not true,” but she has since vanished from social media.17
Meanwhile, in February 2021, the WHO team tasked with investigating COVID-19 origins announced its investigators concluded that WIV had nothing to do with the COVID-19 outbreak, and that the lab-escape theory would no longer be part of the teamâ€™s investigation.18
China has been accused of cover-ups from the beginning, and Metzl believes if China hadnâ€™t carried out cover-ups and silenced whistleblowers, â€œCOVID could have been suppressed in the first few weeks.â€� He said:19
â€œChina, whatever the origin, carried out a massive cover up, destroyed samples, eliminated or removed databases, imprisoned Chinese journalists and put gag orders on scientists so they couldnâ€™t speak about this.â€�
Alina Chan, a molecular biologist at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, is among those who have been outspoken about Chinaâ€™s apparent efforts to hide information about the source of SARS-CoV-2.20 According to Chan, the database on bat and mouse viral pathogens, which had been managed by Shi, has been taken offline, restricting scientists and researchersâ€™ ability to analyze the potential origins of SARS-CoV-2.21
Full Investigation Needed to Reveal COVID Origins
Metzl believes that while the gain-of-function research being conducted in China â€” with funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, by the way â€” may have been well intentioned, perhaps as a way of trying to understand how the most dangerous pathogens may develop and get ahead of them in terms of treatment, â€œIn our effort to prevent it, weâ€™re actually increasing the likelihood of it happening.â€�22
He states the most likely scenario is that there was an accident of some kind that allowed the virus to escape from the lab, which isnâ€™t a stretch considering the U.S. embassy visited WIV in January 2018, noting not only that research was being conducted on SARS-like coronaviruses that could infect humans but also citing a number of safety problems, including â€œa serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.â€�23
In the open letter to get to the bottom of COVID-19â€™s origins, itâ€™s stated that the current WHO investigatory team does not have the independence and necessary access to carry out a full and unrestricted investigation into the origins of COVID-19, and only by carrying out a truly unrestricted, independent investigation will the truth be revealed.
The letter outlines what a full investigation should look like, and calls on governments to take action, concluding:24
â€œ[W]e cannot afford an investigation into the origins of the pandemic that is anything less than absolutely thorough and credible. If we fail to fully and courageously examine the origins of this pandemic, we risk being unprepared for a potentially worse pandemic in the future.â€�