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Sir Richard Dearlove said he wants a more open debate about the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak. The former MI6 chief believes the coronavirus was engineered and escaped by accident from a lab in Wuhan where the first cases were found.
Speaking to Sky News, Sir Dearlove said: “I subscribe to the theory … that it’s an engineered escapee from the Wuhan Institute (of Virology)”.
Scientific experts along with US and British intelligence communities reportedly all have the view that the coronavirus was not man-made.
This comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) are preparing to send a team of scientists to China in order to investigate the origin of the deadly disease.
Sir Dearlove served as head of the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, between 1999 and 2004.
He said: “I am not saying anything other than it was the result of an accident and that the virus is the consequence of gain-of-function experiments that were being conducted in Wuhan, which I don’t think are particularly sinister.
“There is an accumulation of evidence that this is something that has to be openly discussed in the scientific community.”
Sir Dearlove added: “If we are going to have an inquiry in the UK – which I’m sure will happen – about the pandemic and government policy, it will have to start with the science.
“Where did this virus actually come from?”
However, most scientists reportedly believe that the coronavirus was more likely to have occurred naturally.
Speaking to Sky News Dr Rachael Tarlinton, an associate professor of veterinary virology at the University of Nottingham, said: “There is no doubt that this was a natural event.
“The artificial release theories seem to be a form of ‘magical thinking’ – a simplistic solution to a complex problem where if someone can be blamed then that someone can be removed and the problem go away.”
Dr Tarlinton added: “Unfortunately real life just doesn’t work this way – manipulating viruses in the lab to change their pathogenicity is actually quite difficult and unpredictable and any group that has the ability to work on something like this would be well aware of how hard this is.”
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She continued: “We know spillover from animals was a risk … The virus may have passed through an intermediate species on its way into the human population from bats but we may never know which animal this was – candidates include pangolins and small carnivores like palm civets or mongooses.
“Unfortunately we can’t go back in time and start monitoring from before the outbreak so we only have very patchy samples to try and work this out from.”
The fact that Wuhan was the location of two laboratories who conducted coronavirus research in bats is reportedly seen as more than a coincidence by those who support the lab origin theory.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology, who have been surrounded by speculation from lab theory supporters, said there is “no way the virus came from us”.
In April, the institutes vice director, Yuan Zhiming, said: “We have a strict regulatory regimen.
“We have a code of conduct for research so we are confident of that.
“Why are there rumours? Because the Institute of Virology … [is] in Wuhan people can’t help but make associations, which I think is understandable.
“But it is bad when some are deliberately trying to mislead people. This is entirely based on speculation.”
Sir Dearlove said he was “staggered” that the Britain’s intelligence and security services reportedly do not support the lab theory.
He added: “They clearly haven’t read the science. And they haven’t attempted to understand it.
“The onus is now on the leadership of China to explain why the theory and the hypothesis that it could be engineered is wrong.”
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