Dominic Cummings is facing questions about his claim in Monday’s press conference to have written last year about the “possible threat of coronaviruses” after it emerged that a blogpost published in March 2019 was rewritten last month to insert a reference to “Sars coronavirus”.
The post, published to his personal blog on 4 March last year, is largely a lengthy excerpt from research published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warning about the risks of viruses escaping secure laboratories.
In April 2020, the excerpt was edited to add a quote about a “well-publicised incident in China in which ‘two researchers conducting virus research were exposed to severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) coronavirus samples that were incompletely inactivated. The researchers subsequently transmitted Sars to others, leading to several infections and one death in 2004.’”.
The article is the only mention of the word “coronavirus” on Cummings’ personal blog.
First spotted by Jens Wiechers, a data scientist, the edits are verifiable through periodic snapshots of the blog saved by the Internet Archive, which shows the change occurring between 9 April and 3 May this year. A hidden record on Cummings’ own site shows the post was edited at 8:55pm on 14 April, the day he has told the public he had returned from his trip to Durham.
Downing Street was asked at 8am on Tuesday to explain why Cummings, Boris Johnson’s principal adviser, had said at the press conference that he “last year wrote about the possible threat of coronaviruses”, when his only apparent blogpost on the subject was edited this year to include a reference to coronaviruses for the first time – after the current pandemic had hit.
No 10 has not yet replied to the request for comment. At the morning press briefing, Johnson’s official spokesman said: “I don’t personally know anything about that.”
Rather than warning about the threat of coronaviruses, the post was in fact a specific warning about the threat of a “lab release” origin for a future pandemic. The excerpt added by Cummings does not refer to Sars-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic, but to the original Sars virus, now known as Sars-CoV-1.
There is no evidence that Sars-CoV-2 originated from a lab release, though the theory has been pushed by a number of influential sources, including the US Republican party. Donald Trump has claimed he has seen evidence the virus escaped from a Chinese lab, but has not publicly shared the source. Pressed to explain what he had seen, Trump said: “I can’t tell you that. I’m not allowed to tell you that.”