Where did SARS-CoV-2 come from? Beijing did not want an investigation. “An accident in the laboratory cannot be ruled out”

The most talked about hypotheses relate to the natural transition of the coronavirus from animals to humans – possibly at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan – and the pathogen’s escape from a laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), one of the largest bat virus research centers in the world.

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Meanwhile, Chinese authorities say that while COVID-19 was first diagnosed in Wuhan, the coronavirus itself does not necessarily come from China. They categorically reject the lab leak theory and say the virus may have come to China on imported frozen food. They also point to research suggesting that it circulated around the world even before it was detected in Wuhan.

The first joint mission of international researchers under the aegis of WHO and Chinese scientists, which worked in Wuhan in early 2021, did not come up with a clear answer. Members of the mission concluded that the virus probably passed on to humans from bats via other animals. They assessed the laboratory leak hypothesis as “extremely unlikely”.

However, there have been reports of pressure from Chinese authorities and obstruction of access to the necessary data. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus assessed the mission’s conclusions as premature and announced further research, including on the leak.

In mid-October, WHO established the Scientific Advisory Group on the Sources of New Pathogens (SAGO) composed of 26 scientists from 26 countries, including China and the USA. WHO’s director of emergencies, Mike Ryan, judged at the time that this could be the “last chance” to determine the source of “the virus that stopped our whole world.”

“An accident in the laboratory cannot be ruled out”

The new team included Dr. Katharina Summermatter, a biosecurity specialist from the laboratory of the Institute of Infectious Diseases in Switzerland. Commentators saw this as a signal that the WHO wanted to live up to its announcement and consider the lab leak theory along with the hypothesis about the natural transmission of the virus from animals.

A laboratory accident cannot be ruled out until there is sufficient evidence for it and these results are made openly available

– wrote Tedros with two other WHO officials in a commentary in Science.

The future of this research is questionable, however, as Chinese authorities rejected the WHO’s second-stage investigation plan in July. Beijing opposed the WIV scrutiny, saying the lab leak hypothesis had already been disproved. According to the PRC authorities, further research should be carried out in other countries.

Meanwhile, in Laos in September viruses more similar to SARS-CoV-2 than all known pathogens were detected in bats. One of these viruses, called BANAL-52, is 96.8 percent similar. Some researchers took this as evidence that unprecedented features of the coronavirus could have appeared naturally. “I am now more convinced than ever that SARS-CoV-2 is of natural origin,” said Singapore virologist Linfa Wang.

Proponents of the laboratory leak theory point to the controversial experiments carried out at the WIV by Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli in collaboration with Peter Daszak, one of the members of the first WHO mission in Wuhan. Critics accuse Daszak of concealing information about experiments increasing the contagiousness or pathogenicity of viruses. Daszak denies it.

According to Science, WIV stored 2,000 samples of bats infected with coronaviruses and created chimeric viruses to determine how dangerous they are to humans. None of the viruses described by Shi and Daszak were related to SARS-CoV-2, but some Critics say that if they did research that led to a pandemic, they might have concealed it.The WIV and Chinese authorities have repeatedly rejected accusations of alleged links to the pandemic.

The new WHO Advisory Group on Pathogen Sourcing was made up of six members of the first joint mission in Wuhan. Daszak is not among them.


anb / jar / PAP

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About Banner Leon

Videogames entered his life in the late '80s, at the time of the first meeting with Super Mario Bros, and even today they make it a permanent part, after almost 30 years. Pros and defects: he manages to finish Super Mario Bros in less than 5 minutes but he has never finished Final Fight with a credit ... he's still trying.

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