CORONAVIRUS

Why is the Wuhan lab-leak theory coming up despite the WHO having already researched it?

President Biden has ordered US intelligence to conduct further research into the origin of covid-19 after scientists expressed concerns with the initial study.

0
Why is the Wuhan lab-leak theory coming up despite the WHO having already researched it?
EVELYN HOCKSTEIN REUTERS

On Wednesday it was announced that President Biden had called for further review into the origins of covid-19 as United States intelligence considers two competing scenarios.

The explanation forwarded by the World Health Organisation suggests that the virus was the result of a natural mutation that allowed it to spread to humans, but there are claims that the SARS-CoV-2 virus may have emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Biden has confirmed that no new evidence has emerged to spark this investigation but he was spurred into action by the lack of certainty about the coronavirus’ origin. In a statement released on Wednesday, Biden wrote: “As of today, the U.S. Intelligence Community has ‘coalesced around two likely scenarios’ but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question.”

Scientists call for greater insight into covid-19 origin

The WHO’s initial investigation into the source of covid-19, which was carried out in conjunction with Chinese authority, dismissed the lab leak theory entirely. However a new paper in the American journal Science has suggested that the involvement of Chinese authorities has compromised the study’s reliability.

The journal article criticises the initial WHO investigation, saying: “A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest.”

In recent days Jesse Bloom, who studies viral evolution at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and was an author of the Science article, has explained the timing of the article, saying: “As time went on, it became clear that not saying anything about the origins was being interpreted as agreeing with the idea that the virus definitely originated from a [natural spillover].”

Appetite for new research after uncertainties in covid-19 explanation

The news that Biden has ordered further investigation marks a new stage in the belief in the lab leak theory, which had initially been dismissed as a conspiracy by many. Influential scientists had originally opted to steer clear of the debate but the lack of certainty has made further study inevitable.

Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University, said that initially “there was a lot of pressure against speaking up, because it was tied to conspiracies and Trump supporters,” adding “there was very little rational discussion going on in the beginning.”

Now that there is a concerted effort from the US intelligence community to further investigate the origin of SARS-CoV-2 all eyes will be on the White House to learn the outcome of that study. However the process will not be a swift one and Biden has given researchers 90 days to submit the report.

Even once the report has been submitted there is no guarantee that the findings will be made public; White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre refused to confirm whether the report would be publically released once completed.