MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: We need gongs for our hero scientists

MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: We need gongs for our hero scientists – and the truth about Wuhan

These are undoubtedly worrying times. Our hearts go out to the skilled and dedicated doctors, nurses and technicians striving to save the lives of those laid low by Covid – and also to the sufferers themselves and their families, enduring fear and worry in alarming circumstances.

They may be sure that the whole country is doing what it can to help and support the NHS in its battle.

And so it should. This moment may at first sight seem as bad as the first outbreak in March. But this time much hope is at hand.

When the time is right, there should be honours for the scientists and health care workers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak 

Professor Andrew Pollard, pictured, is the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group whose jab will be going into the arms of thousands of Britons every day for the next several months 

The vaccine is rapidly becoming available and it should not be long before the most vulnerable have received its protection.

Doctors have also learned much about the treatment of Covid since then, and have more and better equipment and drugs for doing so.

The advances made in coping with its effects have been quite astonishing in such a short time and are a tribute to medical staff ready and open-minded enough to learn new techniques and discover the characteristics of a new illness, while incredibly busy at the bedside.

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So much has been achieved – from simple dedication to courage miles beyond the call of duty, and stunning scientific advance – that when the time is right there should be a special Honours List for the heroes and heroines of the pandemic.

Seldom have such compassion, bravery and determination been shown in a peacetime struggle. Those involved deserve more than verbal thanks, and we are sure the Prime Minister realises this. In these events we have seen just how powerful scientific knowledge and endeavour can be in doing good, and defeating disease and pain. We should always celebrate that.

But science can have another more worrying side, as The Mail on Sunday shows today in a disturbing report by Ian Birrell.

What has been going on in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the Covid outbreak began and which also contains a highly controversial viral research facility? Perhaps it is a coincidence. But wise people examine such coincidences with care, in case they are not quite as they seem.

Some fear that unwise experiments can lead to the creation of a virus that can pass from animals to humans, not a science-fiction nightmare but a perfectly possible outcome.

Scientists argue fiercely about whether the benefits of this research to medical knowledge outweigh the risks of something going wrong. Laboratories have leaks and accidents. There is a strong case for leaving such things well alone.

British scientist Peter Daszak and his EcoHealth Alliance are at the centre of a major controversy resulting from this dispute.

EcoHealth is already in trouble with the US National Institutes of Health, who have blocked funds to the organisation, while it probes its activities in Wuhan.

Yet despite this involvement, Dr Daszak is a member of two vital inquiries into the origin of the Covid virus, one set up by the prestigious UK medical journal The Lancet and the other by the World Health Organisation. Does he have conflicts of interest which make it unwise for him to stay on those bodies? Why – in any case – was he chosen?

Certainly one leading bio-security expert, Professor Richard Ebright, is ready to state openly that Peter Daszak has ‘conflicts of interest that unequivocally disqualify him from being part of an investigation of the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic’. This is at least a serious charge, and The Lancet and the WHO should now answer it.

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