The World Health Organization (WHO) is working on formulating a likely narrative of how the virus first infected humans, but some scientists are pressing for an independent investigation.
An open letter from 26 scientists published by The Wall Street Journal concluded that it is “all but impossible” for the WHO researchers to uncover the virus’s origins given their perceived lack of access to substantive data.
WHO reportedly recently scrapped plans to share interim results from its investigation into the origins of the pandemic, according to WSJ.
Last month, WHO released conflicting statements about its conclusions. Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO program manager, stated that the possibility of an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology spreading the virus was “extremely unlikely.” But WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom emphasized, “that all hypotheses remain open and require further study.”
To rule out the lab-leak theory, Embarek points to the lack of reports or publications on the SARS-CoV-2 virus before its emergence in late 2019. “Nowhere previously was this particular virus researched or identified or known,” Embarek said.
The WHO team that visited Wuhan reported finding no evidence of viral samples similar to SARS-CoV-2 in a laboratory there.
Chinese officials have discounted the lab-leak scenario as politically motivated.
The Trump administration entertained the possibility that the SARS-CoV-2 virus emerged from the lab in Wuhan. In the waning days of the administration, the U.S. Department of State released a “Fact Sheet” citing intelligence that pointed to the possibility of accidental infections in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
While the Fact Sheet didn’t disclose its sources, Chinese researchers indeed had a history of conducting “gain-of-function” research on virtual strains in which researchers attempt to boost their pathogenicity or transmissibility. So did American researchers, but the U.S. issued a moratorium on the practice in 2014.
According to an opinion piece in The Washington Post, the Biden administration has not entirely dismissed the possibility of the lab-leak scenario.
In any event, the NIH had funded research on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but the U.S. canceled that funding was in April 2020.
Scientists believe that bats were the original host of a predecessor virus to SARS-CoV-2, but the bats that are the likely source of both SARS and SARS-CoV-2 are in Yunnan province, roughly 1,000 miles away.
To explain how the virus first appeared in Wuhan, Chinese officials have entertained the possibility that the frozen meat — perhaps wild meat — was the likely infection source. Pangolins have been floated as a possible intermediary host. The palm civet, ferret badgers and rabbits are other possible contenders.
Many scientists have discounted the likelihood of a lab accident seeding the virus in humans while entertaining the possibility of the SARS-CoV-2 virus jumping directly from an animal to humans or infecting an intermediary animal before infecting humans.
Filed Under: Infectious Disease