After a year and a half of stonewalling, destruction of evidence, and lies by the Chinese government, a growing chorus of international opinion is demanding a full and transparent investigation into the origins of COVID-19. As G7 leaders gather in Cornwall this weekend for the annual summit, they have the opportunity — and arguably an obligation — to use their collective power to demand answers from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and prevent future pandemics.
Early in 2020, a three-line whip was essentially imposed across the scientific, public-health, and political establishments, holding that the novel coronavirus likely emerged through zoonotic transfer. Despite the many scientific and circumstantial holes in this explanation, the alternative hypothesis that COVID-19 may have spread via a lab accident from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) — located at the epicenter of the initial outbreak — was dismissed as a fringe theory. The zoonotic hypothesis also happened to be the preferred explanation of the CCP, which vigorously pushed this narrative while silencing its scientists, destroying evidence, and stage-managing the World Health Organization (WHO) investigation.
Now that an increasing number of scientists, reporters, and political figures are finally taking the lab-leak hypothesis seriously, elected leaders owe their citizens answers about the who, when, where, how, and why of the origins of COVID-19.
The G7 countries should launch a joint investigation into the origins of the virus to complement the ongoing Five Eyes inquiries. Countries such as Japan, Germany, France, and Italy with world-class intelligence services and medical-research institutions can share the benefits of their expertise and their insights on China. France’s cooperation is particularly important. After all, the French built the BSL-4 laboratory for advanced pathogenetic research on viruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Undoubtedly, the French know many of the most sensitive secrets regarding this facility and the personnel inside the WIV, with whom they previously collaborated, and can do a great deal to help solve this mystery.
A G7 investigation could illuminate not only the scientific evidence for the origins of the pandemic, but the reasons for China’s systematic cover-up of the facts surrounding both a possible lab leak and even the potential zoonotic origins of the virus. If Beijing refuses to comply in full with such an inquiry by the world’s leading powers and consumers of Chinese products, our nations could launch a coordinated campaign to impose sanctions — including against the WIV and its parent body, the Chinese Academy of Sciences — for its willful disregard of our collective security, economic stability, and public health. This could be accompanied by other forms of strategic pressure including tariffs, export controls, and restrictions on access to capital and intellectual property. Let’s face it: China has, through its failure to simply inform other nations of the pandemic’s potential to spread human-to-human in a stealthy and rapid fashion, cost the world economy trillions of dollars in lost growth potential and fiscal loss.
In terms of multilateral public-health mechanisms, it is imperative to pursue international bans on dangerous virological gain-of-function research in which viruses are genetically modified to render them more virulent and contagious. Whether or not the lab-leak hypothesis is vindicated, the practice of supercharging viruses as a means of developing potential treatments is, as expert Richard Ebright put it, “like looking for a gas leak with a lighted match.”
In addition, China’s documented violations of the International Health Regulations must not go unaddressed, and the Chinese military’s compliance with the peaceful-purposes clause of the Biological Weapons Convention should also be verified. To avoid future pandemics that could have far more catastrophic consequences, the reckless or intentionally dangerous handling of biological agents must be met with severe consequences — or we risk giving malign state (and non-state) actors the green light to engage in bio-warfare.
In the realm of pandemic prevention, a global bio-threat-monitoring network harnessing the power of state-of-the art genomic sequencing should be established. By sampling blood banks, sewage, water, and air, we may be able to get a head start on the next emerging virological threat before it becomes a pandemic — whether of natural or man-made origin.
As the world finally begins to emerge from the horrors of COVID-19, the time has come for elected leaders to demand answers on behalf of the millions who have died, and the untold number whose lives have been permanently altered by this terrible virus. This weekend’s summit is the perfect opportunity to show the CCP that the G7 will not rest until it has the answers the world deserves — and is prepared to take all necessary steps to ensure that this catastrophe will never recur.