Now things become even more perplexing with the release of Farrar’s book. He admits he was terrified by the “huge coincidence” of a coronavirus cropping up in “a city with a superlab” and the geo-political implications of a leak at a time of US-Sino tensions. “This was a brand-new virus that seemingly sprang from nowhere,” he says. “Except that this pathogen had surfaced in Wuhan, a city with a BSL-4 virology lab which is home to an almost unrivalled collection of bat viruses.”
The new coronavirus “might not even be that novel at all”, he thought. “It might have been engineered years ago, put in a freezer, and then taken out more recently by someone who decided to work on it again. And then, maybe, there was … an accident?” He was so concerned that he confided in Eliza Manningham-Buller, then the Wellcome Trust chair and a former head of the MI5 intelligence service, who told him to start taking precautions such as avoiding putting things in emails and using a burner phone for key conversations.
So what changed his mind so firmly he started signing letters and tweeting about alleged conspiracy theories? When I asked Farrar to share the evidence that set his mind at rest, he pointed to the Nature Medicine article. Yet his office told me later he helped “convene” these five authors. They also insist that “the weight of available data and scientific evidence continues to point towards zoonotic origins”. But scientists have found no hard evidence on the pandemic origins, despite testing 80,000 samples on animals to find a natural link, while China has made increasingly ludicrous claims over the origins as well as covering up the outbreak, lying over the date of first cases and taking offline Wuhan’s key database of samples and viral sequences.