The Mail on Sunday - 2021-10-10



China In The Dock

PERHAPS the greatest mystery in modern science is the origin of the Covid-19 virus. Even more alarming than our lack of knowledge is one possible answer. This is the suggestion, taken with increasing seriousness by many credible scientists, that it may have been created in a laboratory or escaped during risky research. Those on the upper slopes of the British security and political establishment like to treat such suggestions with amused contempt, acting as if they were in possession of deep mysteries which they cannot share with ordinary mortals. But are they just dodging an awkward and inconvenient problem? In a gripping and worrying article in The Mail on Sunday today, an eminent expert says that, as things stand, the world should ban certain types of experiment, known as ‘Gain of Function’, as a precaution against the escape of an engineered virus from a lab. Simon Wain-Hobson is no panic-monger. He is an eminent professor at the prestigious Pasteur Institute who discovered the genetic blueprint for the HIV virus. First, he points out that astonishing advances now allow scientists to tinker with viruses in a way that is actually terrifying, creating dangerous new strains not found in nature. Then he argues that there is no actual practical purpose for such activity. Given these facts, and the appalling possibility that an engineered virus might one day get out of a laboratory and bring about another pandemic, the case for a ban on Gain of Function experiments is unanswerable. The higher levels of the State may pretend to be unworried about such a possibility, but they would be better off following Prof Wain-Hobson’s advice. Britain has high standing in this area of science, and a good record in setting up international conventions to prevent risky research. Boris Johnson and Liz Truss should act now for the good of the planet.


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