A group of top scientists from around the world have pushed the World Health Organization’s conclusion that it is “extremely unlikely” that COVID-19 has leaked from a Wuhan laboratory. She insists that the theory is “tenable” and deserves “proper investigation.”
Eighteen prominent scientists, including an epidemiologist from Harvard University and a microbiologist from Stanford University, are calling for a “transparent” and “data-driven” investigation into the causes of the pandemic that killed more than 3.34 million people worldwide on Friday.
“Theories about accidental release from a laboratory and about zoonotic overflows are still viable,” the scientists wrote in a letter published Thursday in the journal Science.
“Knowing how COVID-19 came about is critical to educating yourself about global strategies to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks.”
The letter comes after a joint study by WHO and Chinese officials into the origins of the virus in March and concluded that humans were likely infected by an animal that got the virus from bats – while a laboratory incident was “extremely unlikely”.
However, the scientists who authored Thursday’s letter say the prospect of a laboratory leak cannot be ruled out as the theory “has not been balanced” – with only 4 pages of the 313-page report devoted to it.
“In particular, WHO Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus noted that the report did not adequately account for evidence of a laboratory accident and provided additional resources,” the letter said, adding that “more clarity” through additional research be attainable.
“We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have adequate data,” the letter continued.
“A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, include broad expertise, be subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading U.S. infectious disease expert, admitted on Capitol Hill earlier this month the virus could have come from a Wuhan laboratory and said the possibility should be further investigated.
“That possibility is undoubtedly there, and I am fully in favor of a full investigation into whether this could have happened,” Fauci told GOP Senator Roger Marshall.
A year earlier, in May 2020, Fauci said the virus likely “evolved naturally and then species” rather than being “artificially or deliberately manipulated”.
Fauci’s comments contradicted claims made by President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said there was “tremendous evidence” that the virus originated in a laboratory in Wuhan where the outbreak first appeared in December 2019.
However, Pompeo did not offer any details at the time to support the claim.
One of the scientists who signed Thursday’s letter told the Los Angeles Times that the possibility of a lab escape should be further considered.
“We believe this question deserves a fair and thorough science-based investigation and that any subsequent assessment should be made of the available data,” said Dr. David Relman, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University.
“We are reasonable scientists with expertise in relevant areas and we do not see any data that says this must be of natural origin.”