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: Lab accident theory on COVID-19 origin must be probed seriously, scientists say

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The theory that the COVID-19 pandemic was triggered by a laboratory leak “remains viable” and “more investigation is still needed to determine [its] origin,” a group of scientists wrote on Thursday in the journal Science, throwing doubt on a recent World Health Organization report about the origin of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

  • The scientists write that “theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover [i.e. the transmission from animal to human] both remain viable,” but that the two theories “were not given balanced consideration” in the WHO report that deemed the spillover from a bat “likely to be very likely.”
  • The signatories include Prof. Ravindra Gupta, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Cambridge, Dr. Jesse Bloom, a researcher on the evolution of viruses at the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Prof. David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University School of Medicine.
  • The authors note that the “information, data, and samples for the [WHO] study’s first phase were collected and summarized by the Chinese half of the team.” The WHO-led team had spent four weeks in January and February in and around Wuhan, China, where the virus was first detected.
  • 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,” the letter concludes.

Read: Global tally of COVID-19 cases tops 160 million as U.S. gears up to vaccinate 12- to 15-year-olds

The outlook. The letter by world-renowned scientists will rekindle debates about the Chinese influences in the WHO, which critics allege risk compromising the organization’s scientific integrity on matters deemed sensitive by Beijing.

The WHO-China team that wrote the report, published on March 30, did visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology but wasn’t authorized to investigate what had happened on the premises. And skeptics, led by the U.S. government, noted that China had limited access to information by international scientists.

Read: Delaying second Pfizer COVID-19 shot boosts immune response in over-80s, study finds

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