COVID-19 Origins: If it was a lab leak, was it caused by biowarfare research?

Some three and a half years have passed since the start of the COVID pandemic, and we now see the first serious article arguing that COVID-19 was the result of biowarfare experiments in Wuhan. 

And it comes from a reputable source: the “Insight” investigative team at the Sunday Times in the UK, whose past successes have included their study of the thalidomide scandal in the 1970s, the background story of the Falklands War and, more recently, investigations into FIFA corruption and doping in world athletics.   That team now consists of Insight editor Jonathan Calvert (a former winner of Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards, and three-time winner of Scoop of the Year) and his deputy George Arbuthnott, (a former winner of Investigation of the Year and Scoop of the Year ).  They have co-written 11 articles on COVID in the last 3 years, including four on its origins, two of them in the last three months.   As far as I can make out neither man is a science specialist, but they are careful and experienced journalists representing what is generally recognised as the leading investigative team in British newspapers (indeed, the only such investigative team that remains in the mainstream British press), which encourages confidence in their findings.

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SWAT Teams and Copycat Cover-ups on the Origins of Pandemics

More and more evidence indicates that the widespread debunking that the lab leak hypothesis of the origins of COVID-19 has experienced in recent times may represent a re-run of the debunking that the OPV theory of the origin of AIDS experienced some twenty-odd years ago.  Indeed, several of the same members of the scientific community have taken part in both campaigns of vilification.  One of the latest articles about the origins of COVID-19 describes a “SWAT team” that was set up early on to discredit the hypothesis that the pandemic could have been caused by a viral leak from a laboratory.  The tactics used by the SWAT teams that have taken part in the debates about how COVID and AIDS got started are characterised by ruthless attempts to disparage, discredit and deny.  This commentary will focus on what increasingly look like two significant cover-ups of how recent pandemics got started. and examine the remarkable similarities between them.  

For those who are not familiar with the OPV theory, it proposes that an experimental polio vaccine which, uniquely, was administered in the Belgian territories of central Africa in the late 1950s, and batches of which were prepared in the cells of the common chimpanzee (which is naturally infected with the ancestral virus to the AIDS virus, HIV-1), introduced that virus into humans, and was the source of the AIDS pandemic. Initially rejected by many in the scientific mainstream, many now believe that the OPV theory has become increasingly plausible as time goes by and new knowledge about the AIDS pandemic is processed. 

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The River, A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS [2021 edition], by Edward Hooper

 We hereby announce the release of a new, free, searchable on-line version of the book.

It’s strange how events sometimes unfold.   Some 14 years ago I became the sole copyright holder for both the UK and US editions of The River, originally published in August 1999 by Little, Brown in the US and by Penguin in the UK, with two paperback editions published the following year.  However, being something of a technophobe, I never personally bothered to obtain an electronic version of the entire text.  What I had, of course, were files of the individual chapters, plus originals of the various photos, maps and charts.

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Sensational New Evidence Strongly Supports the COVID-19 Lab Leak Theory

A new article on The Intercept web-site (“New Details Emerge About Coronavirus Research at Chinese Lab” by Sharon Lerner and Myra Hvistendahl, posted September 7, 2021), reveals some startling new information about the Gain Of Function (GOF) research carried out on bat coronaviruses by Chinese and American scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and Peter Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance.

The Intercept used FOIA litigation against the National Institutes of Health in order to gain access to 900 pages of documents about the work carried out on bat coronaviruses by EcoHealth Alliance.  Lerner and Hvistendahl report that: “The documents contain several critical details about the research in Wuhan, including the fact that key experimental work with humanized mice was conducted at a biosafety level 3 lab at Wuhan University Center for Animal Experiment – and not at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, as was previously assumed.”  

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Latest update on COVID origins and a review of the performance of flip-flopping scientists

Just last night I was able to view the excellent Channel Four documentary “Did COVID Leak from a Lab in China?”, directed by David Malone for DNA Productions, and first broadcast on Sunday August 22nd

In the space of 47 minutes, this documentary made a compelling case for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has caused the COVID-19 pandemic, having an artificial origin, after escaping from a lab in Wuhan, China. 

However, I note that much of the content of the documentary was based on an impressively detailed 83-page report entitled “The Origins of COVID-19: An Investigation of the Wuhan Institute of Virology”  that was issued by the Minority Staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Republican Michael T. McCaul,  and posted on-line as a PDF on August 2nd, at

This appears to be the contribution made by the Republican side of the House to the debate initiated by Joe Biden in May, in which he requested a report from Congress within 90 days on the likely origins of the pandemic virus. Whatever opinions one might have on the current performance of the Republican Party, as most GOP members of Congress cluster around Trump’s fiction that he won the 2020 election, this comes across as an impressive report, clearly compiled by people who know how to do proper research.  I recommend it.

Since there has already been much discussion of these issues on-line, let me attempt to briefly summarise the present state of the debate, with particular reference to these two sources.

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Blunders and Blunderbusses

As the COVID-19 origins debate increasingly comes to resemble an eighteenth century battle-field, more and more scientists now believe that the pandemic virus was the result of a catastrophic lab escape.

For several weeks now people have been sending me links to a variety of articles which offer strong support to the theory that COVID-19, which was first recognised in the Chinese city of Wuhan, originated as a result of a pathogen escaping from a virus lab, rather than through a “natural process”, one which did not involve scientific researchers.  Normally one might write “a process that did not involve human hands”, but in this instance such a description would be misleading, for the leading version of the “natural process hypothesis” involves a new viral variant evolving as a result of different species being placed in close proximity at the Wuhan Seafood Market, and it is clear that this too would have involved the participation of human hands.   So let me stress that in this particular blog about COVID-19 origins the distinction is between the lab leak hypothesis, and the natural spillover hypothesis.

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Warning: Fake Version of The River on Kindle.

I have heard from one of our correspondents that there is now a pirated version of The River being offered on-line, and readers are hereby warned to avoid it. Apparently this version is badly formatted, with lots of errors, and my informant tells me “I wouldn’t download it if I were you.  Might have spyware or something on it…”

I own the copyright to The River, and hopefully there will be a proper ebook version available in the future.

Ed Hooper    May 18th, 2021.

Blaine F. Elswood: 1948-2020

Blaine Elswood in southern Africa, circa 1973

I recently learned from Blaine Elswood’s daughter, Elise, that he had died of prostate cancer in Costa Rica in August 2020.  I am sorry to hear this, for I consider Elswood, as he always preferred to be known, to be one of the heroes of the early investigation into the OPV theory of AIDS origin.   (Another unsung hero was Louis Pascal who, like Elswood, was a highly unusual man.)

I only knew Elswood through our mutual interest in the origins of the pandemic, and never met him.  Apart from the various emails that we exchanged down the years, the following eulogy therefore relies on large amounts of information from his family and friends.

Elswood was born in September 1948 into a Mormon family living in Salt Lake City; he had two sisters and a brother, and was the youngest sibling.  He was still young when his father moved in with another woman, leaving the four children to be raised by their mother, Edith.  Apparently Elswood never quite fitted in with “his very Mormon family”, and was teased for being “sensitive”.  None the less, he was a strict adherent to Latter Day Saint doctrines, and during the late 1960s spent two years as a Mormon missionary in Ireland. 

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A cause for celebration: the eradication of wild poliovirus from Africa.

In these difficult and ill-starred days it is always good to have something genuine to celebrate, and the announcement earlier this week that wild poliovirus has been eradicated from Africa is definitely an event worthy of celebration.   On the face of it, this leaves just Pakistan and Afghanistan to go before the global eradication of polio can be announced. However, it is not quite that simple, because the fact that wild polioviruses have been eradicated from Africa does not mean that all polioviruses have been expunged from the continent. 

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An introduction to Lochlann Jain’s article about the OPV/AIDS hypothesis, and its treatment at the Royal Society meeting on the “Origins of HIV and the AIDS Epidemic”

This version was updated on February 16, 2023 using advice from Lochlann, who now uses a he/they pronoun.

S. Lochlann Jain is a Canadian Professor of Anthropology based at Stanford in California, and a Professor of Social Medicine at King’s College, London.  In 2013 they published a nicely-titled book called “Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us” [Berkeley: University of California Press], based on their own experiences with cancer.  The book was well-received and won several awards. 

In 2017 Lochlann approached me for an interview: he was interested in writing a book about the Royal Society [RS] meeting in 2000 on the “Origins of HIV and the AIDS epidemic”.  He explained that he had read Brian Martin’s writings on the subject such as “The Politics of a Scientific Meeting”, but was interested in another aspect, namely “why it was so seemingly easy to dismiss the detailed well-conceived challenge you made to science/virology” at the London meeting.   That December Lochlann came to visit me at my home, and we spent 24 hours in quite extensive conversation.   He also interviewed certain other contributors to the meeting, notably Hilary Koprowski’s former deputy, the vaccinologist Stanley Plotkin, the co-organiser of the meeting, virologist Robin Weiss, and another virologist, Preston Marx.

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