Dr. Li-Meng Yan, a Chinese virologist has been in the news for announcing that she has evidence supporting the conspiracy theory that the SARS-CoV-2 which has affected over 30 million people globally is man-made and manufactured in a lab in Wuhan. In a paper published on September 14, on Zenodo, an open access source,Yan acting as a whistleblower stated that "SARS-CoV-2 should be a laboratory product created by using bat coronaviruses."
Further in the paper, Yan and her co-authors postulated a probable synthetic route for the SARS-CoV-2 to have entered the body. The study backed by a US-based non-profit organization called Rule of Law Foundation suggested that it is convenient to modify existing bat coronaviruses in the laboratory in six months.
Yan listed three reasons for contending that the virus is man-made.
1. The genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 is suspiciously similar to that of a bat coronavirus discovered by military laboratoriesin the Third Military Medical University (Chongqing, China) and the Research Institute for Medicine of Nanjing Command (Nanjing, China)
2. The receptor-binding motif (RBM) within the Spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, has been genetically manipulated.
3. SARS-CoV-2 contains a unique furin-cleavage site in its Spike protein which is not found in other coronaviruses
Two of the three reasons were debunked by scientists in the journal Nature. Yan's study acknowledged these findings but called them unconvincing.
Yan, a former post-doctoral fellow at School of Public Health, University of Hong Kong, also accused the University of not permitting her to speak about her findings on SARS-CoV-2. She fled to the US from Hong Kong. Since July, Yan has debated the research around the virus and has even said that she fears for her life.
On September 15, Yan featured on Tucker Carlson's show on Fox News. Facebook and Instagram flagged the video and its snippets as false. Posts that act as tools of spreading misinformation are tagged as false on the social network.
Twitter also suspended Yan's profile on September 15.
Yan's claims about SARS-CoV-2
Yan, a virologist accused the World Health Organisation, the Chinese government, and her university of hiding facts about the SARS-CoV-2. She claimed that the virus was produced in a Wuhan laboratory and it was not zoonotic. Zoonotic infections spread from an animal host to a human.
In July, Yan first claimed that she fled Hong Kong as all the three organizations were silencing her for her research. She even claimed that her professors and seniors asked her to not talk about the SARS-CoV-2. Yan also stated that she would provide evidence supporting her statement.
Fox News interviewed Yan twice on July 11 and 13. In her July 13 interview, she stated that her life was in jeopardy and "she would be disappeared and killed" if she would continue to stay in Hong Kong. She fled to the US on April 28. Yan claimed that she unearthed the pandemic potential of the SARS-CoV-2 and shared her findings with her supervisor Professor Leo Poon Lit-man who asked her to stay silent.
In another interview to Americavoicenews.com, Yan stated that she shared her findings with Professor Peiris Malik, who was working with the WHO and later retired.
University of Hong Kong dismissed Yan's allegations back in July. The University clarified that Yan was not working on SARS-CoV-2 in the months of December and January. BOOM reached out to officials at the University of Hong Kong but did not receive a response from the University.
China alerted the WHO about the human-human transmission potential of this virus on January 20 even though the virus was detected in a seafood market in December.
Yan also co-authored two articles published in Nature in May 2020 and The Lancet in June 2020 with her former colleagues from HKU. The study in Nature focused on the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in hamsters while the Lancet study highlighted the shedding of RNA in mild and severe patients.
In an exclusive interview with Fox News on July 13, Yan stated that she was in touch with the US government. She shared that she had shared all her research with the US government.
On September 15, Yan published her findings in an open access site. She postulated that the virus is man-made and even demonstrated a synthetic route through which the virus can enter the body. She appeared on Tucker Carlson's show on September 16 where she reiterated the findings of the study. When asked for the motivesfor creating a virus, she diverted it saying the Chinese Communist Party should answer that question.
Yan is a qualified MD and PhD. She received her MD degree from XiangYa Medical College of Central South University (China), and PhD from Southern Medical University (China).
The Steve Bannon Connection
Rule of Law Society and Rule of Law Foundation funded and supported Yan's study. Carl Bergstorm, professor of biology at University of Washington, tweeted about the links between this Foundation to Steve Bannon, ex-strategist in Trump's government who is currently facing felony charges. Bergstorm also called the study "bizzare"
These non-profit organizations have never published any scientific or medical research before. They were formed in collaboration with an exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui. The mission of the organisation to "expose corruption, obstruction, illegality, brutality, false imprisonment, excessive sentencing, harassment, and inhumanity pervasive in the political, legal, business and financial systems of China.
Bannon has collaborated with Wengui for several such initiatives, reported the New York Times. The former Trump strategist was arrested on fraud charges when he compelled donors to donate in an effort to raise funds for building a wall on the Mexican border.
Existing scientific evidence on SARS-CoV-2
Yan stated that most peer-reviewed journals are not publishing studies contradicting the view that the virus is not natural. Several scientists have time and again disproved this conspiracy theory.
In a paper published in the journal Nature in March, 2020, the authors stated that it would be difficult to manufacture the virus in a lab. In various interviews, leading scientists from the WHO and US Centres of Diseases Control and Prevention confirmed that SARS-CoV-2 has natural origins.
Scientists also said that the similarity of the two bat coronaviruses and them having been discovered in a Chinese lab was purely coincidental.
Yan also claims that the SARS-CoV-2 has furin- cleavage sites that do not exist in other coronaviruses. A study, however, disputes this theory suggesting that they are seen in Mouse Hepatitis Coronavirus. These sites found in the spike protein were even found in other avian-influenza viruses.
From chickens to 5G technology, conspiracy theories and misinformation surrounding the origin of the virus have been in circulation since January.