Researchers call for ‘full and unrestricted’ investigation into origins of COVID-19 – Reason.com
The Chinese government has not been forthright about the origins of the novel coronavirus that sparked the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic. On January 5, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued an emergency preparedness notification that Chinese authorities had alerted the agency to an outbreak of pneumonia of unknown cause in the city of Wuhan. . The alert noted that “some patients were exploiting dealers or vendors in the Huanan Seafood market.” The dominant narrative was that the virus most likely passed from bats to humans (possibly via an intermediate species) in a wet market in Wuhan.
Doubts that the market was the initial source of the epidemic quickly surfaced. Some articles at the end of January 2020 cited the possibility that the virus escaped by infecting a worker associated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), a laboratory known to conduct research on coronaviruses. In April, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a statement stating that “the intelligence community (IC) also agrees with the broad scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not of human origin or genetically modified. ” However, in January 2021, the US State Department released a backgrounder suggesting, among other things, that the outbreak could have been “the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan, China.”
The fact sheet specifically noted that from 2016, “WIV researchers conducted experiments involving RaTG13, the bat coronavirus identified by WIV in January 2020 as its closest sample to SARS-CoV. -2 (96.2% similar) ”. The fact sheet added that “the US government has reason to believe that several WIV researchers fell ill in the fall of 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both the COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses “.
It should be noted that on September 12, 2019, the main database of samples and viral sequences of the WIV was taken offline. In the meantime, Chinese authorities were spreading rumors that the virus had in fact been introduced into their country by the US military.
It is not uncommon for pathogens to pass from animals to humans. For example, influenza viruses have often passed from pigs and birds to humans. The Ebola virus has passed from bats to humans. And earlier in this century, SARS and MERS – both caused by coronaviruses – were transmitted to humans from bats and camels. Nonetheless, the Chinese government’s resistance to investigating the origins of the COVID-19 virus has raised eyebrows.
As the pandemic spread across the world, the Chinese government thwarted attempts by outside investigators to come to Wuhan to sift through relevant data. Finally, a team of WHO investigators were allowed to visit Wuhan in January and February, but their activities and access to data were severely restricted. Nevertheless, during a press conference on February 9 in Wuhan, the WHO team called the laboratory leak hypothesis “unlikely”.
Dissatisfied with the WHO investigation, a group of researchers published an open letter on March 4 calling for a full and unrestricted international forensic investigation. the origins of COVID-19. In their view, the WHO team simply did not have adequate access to information to determine whether the outbreak was due to a natural overflow of an animal species or a laboratory / research incident. .
Among the shortcomings of the WHO survey is the fact that most of the fieldwork had to be carried out by Chinese team members, with the results simply being communicated to international members for review and discussion. . Another is that the reports had to be approved by consensus, which means that the 17 government-appointed members who made up half of the WHO team have an effective veto over what will ultimately be reported. In addition, WHO investigators did not have access to archives, data and laboratory personnel that would have allowed them to confidently assess various hypotheses.
“Although the joint team’s investigation was an important opportunity for the international community to gain limited and highly conserved information, it unfortunately turned out to be opaque and restrictive, greatly compromising the scientific validity of the investigation.” , notes the open letter.
The signatories of the letter urge that a new investigation be launched involving a team comprising epidemiologists, virologists, wildlife experts, public health specialists, forensic investigators and biosafety and biosecurity experts. The survey should also give the team full or meaningful access to all sites, records, samples, and personnel of interest.
Of course, the Chinese government has had many opportunities to allow such a full and unrestricted investigation. It is highly unlikely that the investigation requested by the signatories will take place.
If the Chinese government refuses to be honest, then maybe ours should, argued the Washington post editorial board in a February editorial. The editorial notes: “Truth matters, and the United States should not hide any relevant evidence.” This is absolutely correct.