Scientists call for new investigation into coronavirus origins

Scientists call for new investigation into coronavirus origins
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A group of international scientists called for a new investigation into the origins of COVID-19 on Wednesday, after China and the World Health Organization (WHO) released a scrutinized report last week concluding the virus most likely came from wildlife instead of a laboratory. 

Twenty-four scientists from Europe, the U.S., Australia and Japan issued an open letter, which was obtained by The New York Times, that analyzed steps to complete a more comprehensive investigation. 

“Calling for a full investigation into the origins of the pandemic by the best available means is not intended to point fingers at any one country,” their letter reads. “Its purpose is to leave no stone unturned in seeking to understand how this catastrophe began so we can prioritize efforts to address our greatest shortcomings for the benefit of all people and all nations.”


The letter, which followed a previous open letter criticizing the WHO report, pointed out that “critical records and biological samples that could provide essential insights into pandemic origins remain inaccessible.”

Jamie Metzl, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank who wrote and signed the letter, told Reuters that the scientific community might have to “revert to Plan B” and complete an inquiry “in the most systematic way possible” without China’s involvement. 

“China has databases of what viruses were being held ... there are lab notes of the work that was being done,” he said. “There are all kinds of scientists who are actually doing the work and we don’t have access to any of those resources, or any of those people.”

The scientists requested a probe involving biosecurity and biosafety experts conducted either by WHO or another group of nations to study the origins of COVID-19, which was first reported in Wuhan, China, in 2019.

The WHO report determined that the possibility the virus came from a lab was “extremely unlikely,” noting there was “no record” any lab had closely related viruses. But Metzl said in Wednesday's letter that China should provide proof that the laboratory origin theory is false. 

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said following the report’s release that the investigation into whether COVID-19 came from a laboratory was not “extensive enough” and required more research to “reach more robust conclusions. 

The U.S. joined 13 other countries to express “concerns” about the WHO study, saying it was "significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples.”

Chinese scientists including Shi Zhengli, the director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, have said COVID-19 or a similar virus was not present in their labs.