On January 23, 2020, the day that the Chinese authorities sent their dramatic message to the world by putting the sprawling mid-China city of Wuhan under lockdown, the Biotech company Moderna signed a $1 million funding agreement with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to deliver a vaccine that would go into human clinical trials within 16 weeks.
Serious efforts had been under way at the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare SARS-CoV-2 a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) in the run-up to this Covid-19 vaccine announcement. But the WHO Emergency Committee, convened on January 22 by Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, had declined to cooperate.
The WHO committee’s demurral presented a problem for CEPI’s chief executive officer Dr Richard Hatchett, who was at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in mid-negotiation with Moderna. The vaccine, which was jointly owned by the US National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), had been designed on January 13, the day Chinese authorities announced the first death from Covid pneumonia in Wuhan.
In the UK, in parallel with efforts to persuade the WHO to declare a PHEIC, a government-sanctioned ‘Precautionary Sage meeting on Wuhan Coronavirus’ took place the same day, January 22, in advanceof the first coronavirus Cobra meeting scheduled for January 24. The Sage meeting was co-chaired by Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Officer, and Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer. Also participating by telephone from Davos was Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust and co-founder of CEPI.
The minutes of that Sage meeting were made public only after a disclosure request by the legal team challenging via judicial review the legality of the UK lockdown. The Johnson government put the country under house arrest on March 23, 2020 following a lobbying campaign directed at his special adviser Dominic Cummings, who eventually recommended the lockdown.
There is no mention of the Wuhan lockdown in the Sage minutes, indicating that the meeting took place before the dramatic escalation of events in China on the evening of January 22 when authorities announced its imposition from the stroke of midnight.
Sage’s terms of reference make clear that it is activated by Cobra to provide technical advice to the government in support of Level 2 (serious) and Level 3 (catastrophic) emergencies. Yet this first meeting took place when no emergency officially existed. Its timing demands answers to two questions. Who initiated the activation of Sage? And was it arranged in expectation of a PHEIC being declared by the WHO on that day? A third matter of public interest is what contact was there between Farrar and Whitty or Vallance before the SAGE meeting?
Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, told the Spectator last week that the Sage scientists had been given too much power to decide if the country would lock down or not, giving evidence that the minutes of the Sage meetings had been edited in the run-up to lockdown to suppress contrary opinion.