© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The ultrastructural morphology of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified as the cause of a respiratory disease outbreak first detected in Wuhan, China, can be seen in an illustration released by Centers for
By Guy Faulconbridge
LONDON (Reuters) – The origin of the novel coronavirus is still unclear, and the theory that it was caused by a laboratory leak needs to be taken seriously until a rigorous data-backed investigation proves otherwise, said a group of senior scientists.
COVID-19, which was launched in China in late 2019, has killed 3.34 million people, cost the world trillions of dollars in lost income, and changed the normal lives of billions of people.
“More research is needed to determine the origin of the pandemic,” said the 18 scientists, including Ravindra Gupta, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Cambridge and Jesse Bloom, who develops viruses at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center examined.
“Theories about accidental release from a laboratory and about zoonotic overflows remain viable,” said the scientists, including David Relman, a professor of microbiology at Stanford, in a letter to the journal Science. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/372/6543/694.1
The letter’s authors said the World Health Organization’s investigation into the origins of the virus failed to “balance” the theory that it may have been a laboratory incident.
In its final report, which was co-authored with Chinese scientists, a WHO-led team who spent four weeks in and around Wuhan in January and February said the virus was likely transmitted from bats to humans by another animal and that a laboratory leak is “extremely unlikely” as the cause.
However, there are myriad different ideas about how the virus came about, including a number of conspiracy theories.
“We need to take hypotheses about natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have adequate data,” the scientists said, adding that intellectually rigorous and dispassionate investigation is required.
“At this time of unhappy anti-Asian sentiment in some countries, we find that at the onset of the pandemic, Chinese doctors, scientists, journalists and citizens of the world were providing vital information about the spread of the virus – often at high personal costs.”
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