Health Care

Dozens of scientists call for deeper investigation into origins of COVID-19, including the lab theory

A group of international scientists and academics are reiterating calls to the World Health Organization (WHO) to dig deeper in flushing out the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular suspicions that the virus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China, where first outbreak was reported. 

It is the third letter WHO has received raising concerns over its initial investigation into the origins of the virus in China.

“Understanding the origins of the pandemic is essential to addressing our vulnerabilities and preventing future crises. Unfortunately, as outlined in previous open letters released on March 4 and April 7, structural, procedural, and analytical shortcomings of the WHO-convened joint study into COVID-19 origins have created unnecessary barriers to this understanding,” the letter reads.

It was signed by 25 scientists and academics and organized by Jamie Metzl, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, D.C.; Virginie Courtier, an evolutionary geneticist with the Institut Jacques Monod, CNRS, in France; and Gilles Demaneuf, an engineer and data scientist with the Bank of New Zealand. 

Scientists have determined that the origins of the virus that has terrorized the world originated in an animal and passed to humans, but they have not determined how and when the original transmission took place. 

A team of experts from WHO carried out an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus from January to February 2021, more than a year after the first illnesses were reported in Wuhan in December 2019. 

The pandemic has caused more than 3.2 million deaths worldwide.

Countries are racing to vaccinate their populations against more infectious and deadly variants of the disease amid devastating outbreaks, in particular in India, and as deaths continue to mount. Brazil surpassed 400,000 deaths on Thursday, an example of how the virus is still wreaking havoc. 

A full WHO report into the origins of the virus was published on March 30 and received international criticism, including from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who called the final publication “an important beginning” but noted that it failed to find the source of the virus.  

Critics of the investigation say the long delay, and limited access by Chinese authorities, have tainted the findings of the report. 

In March, the U.S. signed on to a joint statement with 13 other countries raising “shared concerns” over the investigation — saying it was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples. 

The open letter from the more than two dozen scientists “lays out specific recommendations for what a full investigation into pandemic origins should entail.”

Among the recommendations is a full inquiry into the theory that the virus potentially leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan.

The theory that COVID-19 leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a lab that was investigating coronavirus in bats and located near the animal market where the first cases of the illness were reported, was a fixation of the Trump administration.

Former President Trump and his officials cast blame on China for the spreading of the pandemic and sought to deflect criticism of its own handling of the outbreak by calling for Beijing to be held accountable. 

Mike Pompeo, who served as secretary of State under Trump, claimed that there was a “significant amount of evidence” that the virus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, but agreed with the consensus from the scientific community that the virus was not man-made.

U.S. intelligence officials, while concurring with scientists that the virus’s origin is likely naturally occurring in animals, have also not ruled out the possibility it leaked from a lab. 

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said in a hearing with lawmakers this month that a laboratory accident is one possible theory the intelligence community is exploring to explain how the coronavirus was initially transmitted. 

“We have two plausible theories that we’re working on … one is it was a laboratory accident, and the other is that it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals and those are the two we are working through,” Haines said.

Haines, along with CIA Director William Burns, testified to lawmakers that the U.S. intelligence community does not share the same assessment of the April WHO report that a lab leak was “very unlikely” to be the first source of transmission.  

“We do not make the assessment that the World Health Organization report made, that it’s ‘exceedingly unlikely,’ I believe is their language, or ‘extremely unlikely’ — that is not our assessment,” Haines said in response to a question from a lawmaker if the virus leaked from a lab.

Tags Avril Haines Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Investigations into the origin of COVID-19 Mike Pompeo WHO William Burns

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