Director of the Wellcome Trust Jeremy Farrar's pandemic tale raises more questions than it answers
EXCERPT: Farrar [Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust] was a central figure behind two landmark documents published by influential science journals that played a key role in shutting down discussion of the lab leak hypothesis by branding it conspiracy theory. These statements, signed and promoted by leading figures in the scientific establishment, pushed an idea that the pandemic was a natural occurrence by arguing against the plausibility of “any type of laboratory-based scenario”. Critics say this “false narrative” set back understanding of the disease for more than a year.
Did scientists stifle the lab-leak theory?
By IAN BIRRELL
Unherd, 22 Jul 2021
[excerpt only; links to sources at this URL]
* Jeremy Farrar's pandemic tale raises more questions than it answers
In September 2019, even as a new respiratory virus may have started circulating in a central Chinese city, some prominent figures issued a wake up call to the world about the risks of a pandemic. The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, a group of 15 politicians and scientists brought together by the World Health Organisation, warned that a new disease could spread rapidly around the planet, killing millions of people while sparking panic, crippling economies and destabilising security. “The world is not prepared for a fast-moving, virulent respiratory pathogen pandemic.”
The board members included Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, alongside George F Gao, director-general of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and Anthony Fauci, the US infectious diseases expert and presidential adviser. This was not surprising: Farrar is an expert in tropical diseases as well as head of Europe’s biggest philanthropic research funding body and a sure-footed political operator in the world of public health. His £29bn foundation also helped cover costs for the board.
They were, of course, proved right almost instantly. Sadly, their report came too late to achieve its valiant aim of stepping up preparation for a pandemic given the speed of Covid-19’s spread from Wuhan last year. Yet their words were astonishingly prescient. And among the risks highlighted by these experts were the technological advances that “allow for disease-creating micro-organisms to be engineered or recreated in laboratories”, warning how their accidental release might be more devastating than a natural epidemic: “Accidental or deliberate events caused by high-impact respiratory pathogens pose global catastrophic biological risks.”
History shows that labs can leak. So it is strange that Farrar, like his two expert friends, has played such a pivotal role in stifling suggestions that this new virus might have come from a laboratory rather than emerged through natural zoonotic transmission from animals. Spike: The Virus v The People — his book co-authored with Anjana Ahuja from the Financial Times — is a rather self-promotional work, lambasting the politicians he has been advising as a member of Sage for their failures in handling the disease, although his defence of publication seems valid. “Everyone needs to learn the lessons, scientists included,” he writes. “We only honour the dead by pledging to learn from the mistakes that cost them their lives. Protecting lives, and our way of life, is infinitely more important than protecting reputations.”
Such was his fury with government actions last summer that Farrar sent a memo to colleagues about the need to “be honest and transparent”. So why does he decline to answer questions about his own actions in early days of this pandemic that led to the crushing of discussion over possibility that it might be the result of some kind of incident involving one of Wuhan’s laboratories? These include Wuhan Institute of Virology, the biggest bat coronavirus research unit in Asia that was carrying out risky experiments and had known safety concerns.