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Who IS Peter Daszak? The zoologist at the centre of debate surrounding Covid's murky origins


One of the most stringent deniers of the man-made hypothesis is British zoologist Dr Peter Daszak (pictured), who is known among friends as a 'funny northerner' but considered a potential orchestrator of the pandemic by advocates of the lab-leak theory

One of the most stringent deniers of the man-made hypothesis is British zoologist Dr Peter Daszak (pictured), who is known among friends as a ‘funny northerner’ but considered a potential orchestrator of the pandemic by advocates of the lab-leak theory

The debate around the origins of Covid has been ongoing since the virus first began causing chaos in early 2020.

Some top virologists believe the coronavirus spread to humans from an infected animal, potentially in a wet market in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Others think it leaked from a secretive laboratory in the same city. Whether or not it was deliberate or accidental is an even more contentious part of the ‘lab leak’ theory.

One of the most stringent deniers of the man-made hypothesis is British zoologist Dr Peter Daszak, who is known among friends as a ‘funny northerner’ but considered a potential orchestrator of the pandemic by advocates of the lab-leak theory.

He became renowned for his role in facilitating ‘risky’ coronavirus research in China through EcoHealth Alliance, the non-profit he is president of.

The New York-based organisation has secured $60million (£53million) of US Government funds for scientific research over the past decade.

Some of this cash, it has emerged, has since ended up in the pocket of researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the lab at the centre of lab leak claims. Some of this research involved manipulating Covid-like viruses.

Now, it has been revealed that EcoHealth Alliance has gained another $650,000 (£580,000) from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to trawl through caves in Southeast Asia looking for bats carrying coronaviruses, despite fears similar work sparked the pandemic.

In a leaked email from 2020, Daszak appeared to express gratitude to Fauci for downplaying the theory that the Covid-19 was created in a lab in Wuhan, China

In a leaked email from 2020, Daszak appeared to express gratitude to Fauci for downplaying the theory that the Covid-19 was created in a lab in Wuhan, China

Previously, Daszak's EcoHealth Alliance has used the Wuhan Institute of Virology in research, particularly in gain-of-function research in which organisms are genetically altered

Previously, Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance has used the Wuhan Institute of Virology in research, particularly in gain-of-function research in which organisms are genetically altered

Outcry as British researcher is given ANOTHER US grant to investigate COVID – despite fears his initial work at Wuhan lab triggered pandemic

US health officials have given a hugely controversial research organization another $650,000 (£580k) grant to experiment on Covid-like viruses – despite fears similar risky work may have actually sparked the pandemic.

EcoHealth Alliance, run by British zoologist Peter Daszak, funded studies in Wuhan – the Chinese city where the pandemic began – on manipulated coronaviruses.

Such research, known as ‘gain of function’, can see viruses deliberately engineered to become more dangerous to humans.

EcoHealth Alliance’s five-year experiment will investigate ‘the potential for future bat coronavirus emergence’ in Asia, with scientists set to trawl caves in Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam in the hunt to prevent another viral crisis.

The grant was awarded last month by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is still ran by Dr Anthony Fauci.

Dr Fauci is known to be close to Dr Daszak, who thanked the American Government’s departing chief medical adviser for downplaying theories that Covid may have been created in a lab.

EcoHealth Alliance is said to have received $60million (£53.5m) in federal cash over the past decade. Some of this money was funneled straight to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. 

The new contract gives the green light to project leader Dr Daszak and his team to analyse the behaviour and environmental risk factors for coronaviruses to spillover into humans from animals.

It warns that that part of the world has a ‘high diversity of wildlife coronaviruses’ and a large proportion of the population is regularly exposed to wildlife that could be infected. 

Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam are particularly high risk, according to the project details published by the US National Institutes of Health. 

Over the course of five years, the team will identify cases where people become infected with coronaviruses, assess the risk and drivers of community transmission and spread and test public health interventions to contain an outbreak.

Scientists argue such research is vital to contain diseases like Covid. But others have raised alarm over its potential involvement in outbreaks. 

The latest contract puts the spotlight back on Dr Daszak, who hails from the mining town Dukinfield, on the outskirts of Manchester.

The researcher, who grew up with a younger brother, Ukrainian father and Welsh mother, studied zoology at the University of Bangor in Wales and the University of East London.

The expert in zoonosis — the spread of viruses from animals to humans — has authored more than 300 scientific papers over his career, which has spanned more than three decades, and seen him become friendly with Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the US President. 

Dr Daszak, who lives in New York with his wife Janet, joined EcoHealth — formerly The Wildlife Trust — in 2001. His early career focused on diseases spread by frogs.

But he has also worked with researchers in China for 15 years, including Dr Shi Zhengli, a virologist at the WIV nicknamed ‘Bat Woman’.

EcoHealth, which originally focused on conservation, now works around the world to find out the origins of viruses, map where they have spread and analyse them to find out where the next outbreak could occur. 

Records show Dr Daszak raked in millions of dollars’ worth of grants from US Government bodies on behalf of EcoHealth alliance and was paid $354,000 (£314,000) in 2019.

This funding was often dished out to other laboratories, including the WIV, to conduct research in mines to examine bat coronaviruses.

The partnership saw researchers sample thousands of bats and determine that Sars originated in horseshoe bats, which are common in southern and central China and traded in wet markets.

And two years before Covid emerged, Dr Daszak proposed working with WIV scientists to alter coronaviruses and release them into bats as part of a plan to inoculate them against the virus. 

Records show Dr Daszak raked in millions of dollars' worth of grants from US Government bodies on behalf of EcoHealth alliance and was paid $354,000 (£314,000) in 2019. This funding was often dished out to other laboratories, including the WIV, to conduct research in mines to examine bat coronaviruses. Pictured: Peter Daszak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, 2020

Records show Dr Daszak raked in millions of dollars’ worth of grants from US Government bodies on behalf of EcoHealth alliance and was paid $354,000 (£314,000) in 2019. This funding was often dished out to other laboratories, including the WIV, to conduct research in mines to examine bat coronaviruses. Pictured: Peter Daszak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, 2020

Researchers asked the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) for $14.2million (£12.6million) cash to fund the project. But it turned the proposal down over concerns it would put ‘local communities at risk’. However, separate EcoHealth Alliance projects got the go-ahead.

But it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that Dr Daszak found himself in the spotlight.

From the early days of the Covid crisis, he was a staunch denier that the virus could have leaked from a lab, setting out his views in news publications and the scientific journal The Lancet.

One opinion piece he published in The Guardian is titled ‘Ignore the conspiracy theories: scientists know Covid-19 wasn’t created in a lab’. 

He called suggestions that the virus was manmade ‘the latest chapter in the tale of blame, misinformation and finger-pointing’.

Seven months later, in January 2021, Dr Daszak joined the World Health Organization (WHO) team sent to Wuhan to investigate the origins of the virus. 

A group of 17 inernational experts and 17 Chinese scientists conducted a 28-day study on the origins of the virus in Wuhan, China.  

The group’s report, published in March 2021, concluded that it was ‘extremely unlikely’ that the virus originated in a laboratory.

But four months after the the initial whitewashed report, the researchers, including Dr Daszak, asked for scientists to go back and conduct a more thorough investigation.

The zoologist came under fire after it emerged that he had a working relationship with Dr Zhengli, one of the very scientists whose work he was tasked with investigating.

EcoHealth Alliance has given $600,000 to her lab’s research to investigate the risk posed by coronaviruses being spread from bats.

Dr Daszak defended the connection, arguing that the Covid origins probe should involve those who know the most about coronaviruses in China.  

He also chaired a group of scientists probing Covid’s origins for the medical journal The Lancet but stepped down when his link with Chinese virus research was revealed.

A Vanity Fair in March set out that Dr Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance was a ‘virus-hunting profit’ at the centre of the lab-leak theory.

The lengthy report, based on dozens of interviews and more than 100,000 leaked internal documents, detailed how EcoHealth operated in a world of ‘murky grant agreements, flimsy oversight, and the pursuit of government funds for scientific advancement, in part by pitching research of steeply escalating risk’.

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