Peter Daszak, Who Sought U.S. Funds for Wuhan Lab and Aided Cover-up, Faces Calls to Quit

Scientists have called for Peter Daszak, the president of U.S.-based research organization EcoHealth Alliance (EHA) to quit, accusing him of concealing conflicts of interest, witholding critical information, and misleading public opinion during the COVID pandemic.

EHA has been thrust into the public eye during the pandemic because of its work studying bat coronaviruses with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which is located in the city Chinese city that was the first epicentre of the COVID outbreak.

EHA recently came under heavy scrutiny after a group of online researchers and correspondents known as the Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19 (DRASTIC) published a 2018 proposal to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for research that would have involved enhancing viruses to study them. The documents could not be verified by Newsweek.

DARPA rejected the 2018 proposal, partly because it did not address regulatory or ethical issues.

Newsweek has previously reported on how DRASTIC uncovered details of WIV research in China, as well as on Daszak's collaboration with WIV director and bat virologist Shi Zhengli, and the scrutiny surrounding the EcoHealth Alliance.

Daszak has co-authored nearly a dozen papers with Shi Zhengli, and funnelled at least $600,000 of U.S. government funding to her research.

A Freedom of Information Request has shown that Daszak organized a letter to squash rumors that COVID leaked from a lab, in a way that did not link back to collaborations between WIV and EHA. Before his organizing role was revealed, Daszak called the lab leak theory terms such as "preposterous," "baseless," and "pure baloney," and claimed the WIV wasn't culturing viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2.

It later emerged that WIV had been working with RaTG13, one of the closest know relatives of SARS-CoV-2. Daszak had denied WIV had been actively working on RatG13, telling Wired: "We thought it's interesting, but not high-risk... So we didn't do anything about it and put it in the freezer."

On September 30, ten researchers from around the world, including four members of DRASTIC, signed a letter calling on the Board of EHA to remove Daszak from his position as president. As well as EHA officials, the letter was also addressed to individuals including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci and Xavier Becerra, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The letter criticizes Daszak for claiming in May 2020 that there was "zero evidence" for the COVID lab leak theory, which is now widely considered to be plausible after being considered a conspiracy theory at that time.

It also accuses him of wrongly claiming that EHA's Chinese collaborators did not keep live bats when evidence shows they did. The letter also said he had "gone a step too far" by allowing the EHA to propose making "human-optimized virus constructs" under the rejected DARPA proposal.

The letter reads: "Dr. Daszak has now been proven to have concealed several extreme situations of conflict of interest, withheld critical information and misled public opinion by expressing falsehoods."

It goes on: "We therefore call on the Board of EcoHealth Alliance to fulfill its role and take immediate steps toward the removal of Dr. Peter Daszak from the presidency of your organization."

Among the letter's signatories are Jamie Metzl, who was formerly on the World Health Organization'sExpert Advisory Committee on Developing Global Standards for Governance and Oversight of Human Genome Editing; Rolan Wiesendanger, a nanoscience researcher at the University of Hamburg; and Milton Leitenberg, an arms control and bioweapons researcher at the University of Maryland.

Newsweek has contacted Daszak and EHA for comment.

Peter Daszak
Peter Daszak is pictured leaving the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China on February 3, 2021, as a members of the World Health Organization COVID origins investigation team. Daszak is head of the EcoHealth Alliance research group that has come under scrutiny this year. Hector Retamal/AFP / Getty