Ever since she's claimed that the novel coronavirus has been a result of a man-made laboratory intervention in China, Dr Li-Meng Yan has been in the eye of a storm. Her research paper has been termed 'unscientific' and one 'without evidence' by the Chinese authorities and she's had to flee from her home country of HongKong to take refuge in the US to keep herself alive. Her family is being "controlled and monitored closely" by the Chinese Communist Party and she's had to cut off all ties with them to protect them. On a Friday evening, as she spoke over a video call from New York the bespectacled scholar and virologist from China Dr Li-Meng Yan looked every bit calm and composed, far removed from the present circumstance she finds herself in. Dressed in a black skater dress with a microphone plugged into her ears, as she connected for an interview with THE WEEK, the tension and that desperate urge "to chase the truth and bring it in front of the world," was evident from the way she took on questions and answered each one with conviction. Dr Yan has taken the bold step to go against her peers, colleagues, the government and the society when claiming that the Chinese government covered up the dissemination of information relating to SARS-CoV-2 and that it is a product of genetic engineering and manipulation. She's even gone against the WHO where her husband is currently employed. "The truth is important, not me," she says.
What is your current state of mind like?
From January to now I have been trying to fight lies and bring out the truth. But the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the others including the world Health Organisation (WHO), scientific world and the media are trying their best to suppress me. I don't want to push anyone to trust me. People can verify. But one must see both sides. The thing is I'm happy that more and more people realise that this is a problem. Over the past half year, many people just believed the authorities. They ignored this possibility, this fact that the virus came from the lab and is not a mere natural disaster. Now people started realising it and that's a good thing. They can now find more facts to support their investigation, discuss it, share the ideas. This way the Chinese Communist Party's suppression can be broken down. Also, I'm working on the second scientific report to show the world scientific evidence. I'm also shocked that all the people who i have worked with in the past months have have been lying to the public about the origin of the virus, thereby ignoring the safety of the world at large. Now even when I put my scientific report out, the top experts in the field, lie. And people believe them because they are experts. For example, from the 19th January, Lu De's broadcast channel in Chinese helped me deliver a message that the virus was man made and important people in the government listened to that which went against the Chinese Communist Party. When the authorities watched the broadcast, they knew someone inside delivered the truth outside so that's why they admitted that there was indeed a transmission going on, it was human to human and that the cases had already tripled, were taking place all over China not only in Wuhan. Just a few hours after the broadcast, the chairman Xi Jinping published the first Chairman statement of 2020 to upgrade the SARS 2 disease at the same level as SARS 1, as a very serious infectious disease. But despite us pushing to help people, this government allowed people to go all over the world, and WHO said that masks do not work, there's no need to be scared, there won't be pandemic, to not impose PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern) on China, and later also said not to use Hydroxychloroquine. But as per my intelligence and research it was wrong and irresponsible to dismiss HCQ. At present, I'm getting help from the US, from the people who support anti-Chinese communist party, and from leading scientists all over the world, who believe in the fact that the novel coronavirus was indeed manmade. But still the attacks from the Chinese government and its colleagues against me are going strong.
You say that you came to know of the human to human transmission in China as early as December 31. But China and WHO confirm such transmission only on January 20. Why do you think the delay happened?
Initially from December 31st, I was assigned to the WHO H5 reference lab at the Centre of Influenza Research at Hong Kong University (HKU) by my supervisor, Poon, Lit Man Leo (professor and division head at the University of Hong Kong) to track the new, unknown pneumonia happening in Wuhan because they lacked the information through Chinese official channels. At that time I already got confirmed information that sequence is isolated in Wuhan already. Over 40 cases had happened at that time but they claimed 27. A paper in the New England Journal admitting that they too knew it since December. But then the Chinese government came out with a white paper to impose their versions and make people quiet. From local doctor to CDC (Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention) staff in a way in Hong Kong we are not allowed to know anything unless government tells us or gives the information. Nobody knew what was happening. Even those inside the hospitals were asked to remain quiet, unaware of the kind of treatment patients were given, what for, and what they were undergoing. It was highly suspicious.
The prime broadcaster from CDC postponed the results. Our government has many, many ways to hold the truth. They made sure everyone bought the theory that the seafood market was the problem and that was all one big lie.
You said Professor Malik Peiris, a renowned virologist who has been researching emerging viruses at the animal-human interface, knew about the cover up but did nothing. How did you come to know of his involvement and what did he exactly cover up?
I knew him even before I came to that department. I came to the university of Hong Kong in 2012 July and I met my husband there. My husband is also another expert working for WHO for the emerging diseases sphere. He is on the staff of Professor Malik. They both come from Sri Lanka. We both know Malik for over ten years. Malik knows us quite closely and we even stayed at Malik's home. My supervisor was also on the staff of professor Malik earlier. So everything I discussed with the former, or with my husband is known to Malik immediately and I know it because I get feedback too. You see it's a very small group. So, although he knew everything he didn't act. So basically, I can tell you Dr Tederos and others in leading positions, including MariaVan Kerkhove who is the technical lead at WHO have very strong connections with Malik. And so nothing got done. Malik had strong connections with China government. So both, the Chinese and the WHO kept everything under the carpet. CCP insists that Wuhan Hunan seafood market and wild animal are the origin of SARS-CoV-2 from the beginning. But dont allow scientists to investigate the market and collect samples. They can't even provide any positive sample with suspicious animal hints like hair/shit/DNA. However, they still cleaned the market so that there would be no way for others to find out the evidence.
You said that your lab in the university of Hong Kong also knew it, your supervisor knew about it but nobody said or did anything.
My supervisor insisted that I do this in secret. Apart from the two of us, Malik knew it. But in this secret investigation, my supervisor warned me repeatedly that I should be careful because the Chinese government don't want to release these things so he said do not cross the red line and if you have, you will be in trouble. You will disappear. And when I report to him, he would keep silent and during early January to January 16 he even asked me to stop investigation and after that he directly contacted my friend in CDC, saying now I will be in touch with him. You go do your work because it is dangerous. I cannot have you work on this because the government does not want people to know.
You say that the virus is man made and that it can be made in six months. Can you substantiate your claim because scientists world over are saying that your claims are unscientific and lack evidence.
First, scientists who reject the lab origin theory are lying. I take full responsibility. They can sue me if they want. I put my name here but other authors are anonymous because I have to protect them, but they are real and real experts. Of course, I can tell you that the first report before I publish it has been read by many well-known people in the US government including the top experts. I have my contacts and gave it to them for their reviews. There are two theories: One is the nature theory and the other is the theory of lab origins. The existing scientific publications supporting a natural origin theory rely heavily on a previously discovered bat coronavirus named RaTG13, which shares a 96% nucleotide sequence identity with SARS-CoV-2. However, I contest the existence of RATG13 in nature. Also, we live in a time when viral genomes can be engineered and manipulated to create novel coronaviruses. There has been a highly probable pathway for the laboratory creation of SARS-CoV-2and the evidence is present in the viral genome. Also, let me tell you that as per the natural evolution there may be a chance that the virus comes from animals through an intermediate host and jumps onto humans but that takes a very, very long time and coincidences such as bat meets a suitable intermediate host and bat virus luckily adapts to the new host, etc. Meanwhile, nature origins can also be mimicked in laboratories. Here, the genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 is suspiciously similar to that of a bat coronavirus discovered by military laboratories and the RBM that is, the receptor binding motif within the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 which determines the host specificity of the virus is suspiciously similar to that of SARS-CoV of 2003 and so between these two viruses there is a series of laboratory procedures that have happened. The genomic evidence suggests that the RBM has been genetically manipulated. Also, SARS-CoV-2 contains this unique furin cleavage site at the S1/S2 junction of the lineage B of Beta coronavirus is demonstrated in my report, which is otherwise completely absent in all other coronaviruses that can be found in nature. So then there is every possibility that this furin cleavage site has been inserted by man into the SARS-CoV-2 genome. So all that is needed is a backbone to create the virus and for this particular present novel coronavirus, a bat coronavirus ZC45 and/or ZXC21 come to be the closest backbone or shares the highest sequence identity with SARS-CoV2. Now, this backbone or template has already been existing with Chinese authorities ever since they were discovered in 2015 by labs in China. Once the template is available, it is just a matter of reconstruction of all the procedure of the virus from the bat coronavirus to the one that targets human beings. I'm also certain that although SARS-CoV-2 is created using Zc45/ZXC21, during its creation, changes must have been introduced to obscure the genetic connection between the two. From the very beginning, the scientific world tried to ignore the man-made lab origin theory. But they cannot explain why the bat coronavirus can travel into human and become much like humans. One very important fact is also that envelope (E) protein of SARS-CoV-2 and ZC45/ZXC21 virus is 100 percent identical, which never happened among cross-species coronaviruses.
But 'The Proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2,' the paper which was published in Nature, said that the virus was natural and that SARS-CoV-2 is not derived from any previously used virus backbone.
My second report, which is currently under progress will stress on this fact a bit more. The communist party influenced not only the Chinese scientists but also people overseas. Nature origin professor Dr Anderson attacked my report and me in the media saying that my paper is nonsense and that their analysis clearly shows that SARS-CoV-2 is neither a laboratory construct nor a purposefully manipulated virus. They are misleading people by way of these conceptions. The SARS-CoV-2 does not like it in nature. That is why for thousands of years it never happened in this type of virus. To engineer and create a human targeting novel coronavirus, one would need to pick a bat coronavirus as the template or the backbone. This is not too much to ask for, because many research labs have been collecting samples of bat coronaviruses over the past two decades. The actual template could be ZC45 and/or ZXC21 or a close relative of them. Now to get this template bat virus to be converted into a coronavirus that can bind with human ACE2 receptor to infect humans, they would require to use molecular cloning to get the Spike protein to bind to human ACE2. Also, one would use reverse genetics to assemble the gene fragments of Spike, ORF1b and the rest of the backbone into a CDNA version of the viral genome Then post carrying out the in vitro transcription to obtain the viral RNA genome, and transfection of RNA genome into cells we could have live and infectious viruses with the desired artificial genome. All of this, when considered together is consistent with the hypothesis that the SARS-Cov-2 genome has an origin based on the use of ZC45/ZXC21 as backbone or a template for genetic gain-of-function modifications. Besides, this article 'The Proximal ....' is full of problems. It admitted some of the unusual characters in SARS-CoV-2 genome, like RBD and furin cleavage site in S1/S2. But they intentionally ignore the possibility of man-made origin and Zhoushan bat coronavirus. Instead, they only emphasise on the nature origin theory.
Is it not true that coronaviruses circulate in wild animal populations and that there may be a tendency to spill over into humans?
All I'm saying is that there are other type of coronaviruses for example, MERS. We know MERS jumped from camel to humans, and this is the problem why among humans it has sometimes transmission between human to human but not to this extent or not so highly contagious. This has been going for years and there is also chance for different types of zoonotic passages to jump into humans. But it takes time and also different conditions. For example, Avian Influenza jump from birds to humans. So it is usually just a change in some deeper part by the mutant and it can somehow attack human and the latter may be dead. They have a direct way after that equate with the RBM (Receptor binding Motif) and also equate the furin cleavage site and the evidence they even put the one part called the RdRp which draw your attention from backbone Zhoushan bat coronavirus. If you were to trace back the family tree using the RTRP gene neither does it become very unique nor close to the backbone.
Did you try to report your findings to the authorities in Hong Kong and China and how did they respond?
I didn't report on the virus being man made because I knew I would be killed immediately. I reported the cover-up, the human-to human transmission and there is no intermediate host from mid December to January 17. I kept reporting this. But there was no response. I'm a scientist. After my investigations, intelligence and all the scientific evidence showed me that it exists from the military. But I cannot trust the communist party and I saw what happened in Hong Kong during the protests there so I had to give this out by myself to the world.
So, how long before do you think China knew about the virus and the fact that human to human transmission was happening?
What I can tell you based on my intelligence is that at the earliest it was in December that human-to-human transmission happened. In December, Wuhan already isolated the live sequence of the virus using the sequence from a patient's sample. This is against their claims of all this happening in the middle of January. So from end of December the doctors in Wuhan including the doctor Li Wenliang who told us first that there was a novel coronavirus, even before that already local doctors were told to keep silent. Even as other doctors asked the friends in Wuhan we were asked to keep quiet and wear mask without asking any questions. Everyone's scared. Doctors are scared. Nobody was allowed to talk about it at the time, not even now.
Hong Kong University says that you never conducted any research on the human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus while you were working there.
What was your research focus before you left the university?
I have evidence that I was secretly assigned by my supervisor Prof. Leo Poon. I was doing is for five years in the school of public health at the University of Hong Kong after I get my PhD in mainland China and working in university of Hong Kong for several years, Prof Peiris wanted me to go to that department and work with them. I thought it was a challenge because this is the topmost lab in coronavirus and merging disease in the world. I worked in the areas of virology, immunology, vaccine development. I have my universal influenza vaccine patented and on pending. I've presented papers in topmost conferences of the world. So before i left the University of Hong Kong I initiated several important projects including that on COVID-19. Work on hamsters in COVID-19 has been certified to be excellent by scientists across the community. I have also presented a research paper on infectious diseases which was cited 300 times just within one month of getting published in Lancet Infectious Diseases. The statements from the University of HongKong come out when I stepped into the studio of Fox News in July. At that time they released the part of China's cover up, human to human transmission all of which I had already said way back when the university disregarded it all as being unscientific. I and my family got prosecuted by the government, the CCP threatened, monitored and controlled my family and ransacked through my house and the vice-chancellor of the university of Hong Kong recruit people to dig out information about me and contacted all my friends and contacts and tried slapping a criminal case on me. I cut off all contact with my family since July. They don’t know anything about what I am doing. Nobody stood up for me. Malik left the job immediately when I left Hong Kong. The University too, immediately deleted my HongKong credentials on their website. I took an annual leave of ten days when I left Hong Kong. With the weekend too, it should have lasted until May 11 I left HongKong on 28 April. This way it was easy to escape because i did not have to respond to anyone. But they shut down my portal, called the police and deleted my website. The HKU said my words were without scientific evidence when I told the public about the prosecution from CCP. How could my such an experience be scientific? And Leo Poon never responded to my words in public because he knew I have evidence. So is Malik Peiris. The week before I left, Malik was so excited for the 28 million HKD ($3.2 million) funding from Carrie Lam (HK government) of citizens anti-COVID19 antibodies screening project. But he retired immediately after I escaped.
When did you realise that you were in danger?
I knew I was in danger right from the moment I decided to give the message out. So, right from January to April I was in danger. Lu De helped me to keep everything a secret by himself volunteering to give out the message instead of me. It takes time for the China government to zero in on or target who is doing what. In Mid-April Mr Lu-de had the intelligence that I was in danger and that the government wanted to make me disappear. After that people from the Rule of Law Foundation helped me to escape from Hong Kong to the US.
You are associated with the controversial businessman Guo Wengei and through him Steve Barron. How have they helped you?
From the time I contact until I decide to leave I was only in touch with Mr Lu-dE. He was the one who called the director of the board, at Rule of Law Foundation and Mr XXX (he did not wish to be named) was the chairman of the RoLF and RoLS (Rule of Law Society) and my school supports this Foundation. Those at RoFL target Chinese Communist Party's bad things. People who donate money to the foundation support people and their behaviour to reveal the truth as the anti Chinese Communist Party. They helped me to come out with the truth and I will never discredit the support they've extended.
You're a post-doctoral researcher well-versed in the peer review system and its merits. But you still chose to publish your controversial paper on an open access site before having it peer reviewed. Why did you take that decision, especially knowing full well that it could affect the credibility of your paper.
Peer review does not mean that something needs fixing. It is also not an indication for good standards. So many to peer review journals, including Nature, New England Medical Journal, and more also have some negative past to them of faking data or giving out misinformation. Also, for peer reviewing any one journal they have their small group of experts for reviewing it using their expertise. But I said I knew the urgency. The pandemic is on us and we need to act faster. If i go to the peer review, i can tell you with guarantee that those many months and years. Also, i do not have to depend on the credibility of a journal. What I'm saying is fact and the truth. I show it to the world to do peer-review because this is related to us all as one world. And the government was behind my neck so for acting quick I did not indulge in peer reviewed journals.
But why did you not engage with the critics/sceptics including prominent virologists?
I did whenever i was presented with an opportunity. Many media do not want to engage objectively with me. Also, I'm busy with the next scientific report. When it comes out, many lies from those prominent scientists will be revealed immediately.
Virologist David Robertson from the University of Glasgow shows that SARS-CoV-2 and its closest known ancestor, a virus called RATG13 has been circulating in Bat populations for decades.
In my second paper I will tell you that the RATG13 is fabricated. And also my intelligence says that this virus never existed. While suggesting a natural origin for SARS-CoV-2, the RATG13 virus diverted the attention of both the scientific community and the public at large away from ZC45/ ZXC21. One of the publications also indicated that the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the RATG13's spike protein could not bind ACE2 of two different types of Horseshoe bats implicating the inability of RaTG13 to infect horseshoe bats. This further substantiates the suspicion that the reported sequence of RaTG13 could have been fabricated as the spike protein does not seem to carry the said function.
What's the way forward from here?
I'm right here in the US working on my second research paper. I can't wait to prove the lies that have surrounded the natural origin theory of the novel coronavirus.
The Trump administration froze funds to WHO. Is that the right policy?
Yes. The WHO gave out wrong and misplaced advisories, including that of not wearing masks, etc. They came to China several times yet they never visited the right hospitals and centres which could have helped get information. Unless we have the truth, we will not have the solutions.
Some say your research may be politically motivated.
This is nothing to do with politics. It is about the truth. And if I don't tell the truth now, i won't be able to tell it ever. Because it is happening and I can see it.
Did you have any previous run-ins with the government?
None at all. I have been a very respected, awarded scientist. Before all of this, we got along well..my supervisor, my peers. It has been a sort of dictatorship but we were used to with that life. I enjoyed my work and we also a lot of happy moments.
Are you living in fear right now?
Not fear. I know that the CCP is targeting me. They are following me everywhere. They even knew of my previous apartment in New York when i had just landed here hence I had to change my apartment immediately after. But as of now I am under protection. Also, I don’t think the CCP will win against me.
It seems that the Rule of Law Society connects with the Falun Gong religious cult. And that it is trying to spread the idea of artificial origins of SARS-CoV-2 as part of their anti China campaign. Do you think so?
That is very naive. This is a legal organisation. You are free to make your judgement.
Do you feel targeted by the scientific community across the world?
Yes, they are targeting me. I can be killed any moment by the government. But I still want more and more people to talk about the origin of this virus and know the truth. Because this is not about me. It is about the truth.
Will you go back to HKU?
No never. I won't take the flight to HK ever again. They will arrest me if I go there ever.
You once said that you discovered a cover-up operation in Wuhan?
From December 31 to 3rd Jan Wuhan government already knew more than 40 cases were there but claimed 27, said there was no human to human transmission . THE CCP agreed that the discovered the sequence on January 10 and they uploaded it to the NIH database think-tank which is a big database for the sequences of pathogens. The first time they uploaded a wrong one. The genome is a fingerprint. But two days later on January 13 the first overseas case happened in Thailand. that made the govt realise that people overseas also had the chance to know the sequence.
Version 1 can’t be analysed to be closed to Zhoushan bat coronavirus because of unusual errors inside. Later, the repealed version 1 came out ...The notes shows they had updated that sequence in database.
On January 14, version 2 came out. They removed or repealed the version 1 that time. Three days later, they extended the nucleotides with a long sequence and called it version 3. From 1 to 2 to 3 you can compare the similarity to Zhoushan bat coronavirus. So that repealed version 1 had gotten back again after I released the information and they said they had updated it to the version 3.
Is the Chinese state influencing studies on the Wuhan virus all over the world?
Yes absolutely. They strictly are in control of the clinical samples. Even in Hong Kong you cannot get the clinical sample. So for example i want to do antibody screening for some in area next to Wuhan , the government will not allow it. When i said we want to do asymptomatic study in China, the CCP party secretary of Guangzhou and head of Guangzhou CDC took the samples away. So, they, including the CDC director, are manipulating and controlling the studies. 33 environmental samples were collected by the state in Wuhan but no outside experts were there. They said they got already got he samples from the wet food market, cleaned it and shut it down.
Why don't any other scientists come in support of you?
They do. But the ones who do are not in China. There are three Chinese scientists in the US. Scientists from across the world have been supporting me via emails and texts and Twitter. But my social media profiles have been taken down and I'm not allowed to connect with anyone on these platforms.
How is life right now?
Life right now is protected, safe and very hectic. I have been attacked twice already. But I have to do my next set of investigations, collaborate with people and live a simple, hardworking life right now.