Did Covid-19 leak from Wuhan lab? All you need to know about US vs China feud

The origins of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) which has left round 3.5 million useless and greater than 168 million affected around the globe stays a thriller. ‘What is the origin of the virus that has ravaged the world’ stays a broadly debated subject, with some scientists and politicians sustaining that the opportunity of a lab leak of the lethal virus exists.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) is close to the outbreak’s recognized epicentre of Huanan Seafood Market in central China’s Wuhan metropolis, the place the virus first emerged in late 2019 and have become a pandemic.

In the previous few days, the idea that the virus emerged from the WIV in China, which was as soon as dismissed, has out of the blue gained steam with US President Joe Biden ordering a overview of Covid-19 origins.

The transfer by the US President resulted in a robust pushback from China. China has accused the US of “spreading conspiracy theories and disinformation such as a laboratory leak” whereas asking Joe Biden to open its personal virology services to scrutiny.

The state media of China has additionally not shied away from attacking high US infectious illness knowledgeable Dr Anthony Fauci who mentioned he’s “not convinced” Covid-19 developed naturally while calling for an open investigation into the virus’ origins.

After months of minimising the possibility as a fringe theory, the Joe Biden administration is responding to both US and world pressure for China to be more open about the outbreak.

In the latest development, US President Joe Biden ordered officials to find answers to the origin of the virus that causes Covid-19, saying the US intelligence agencies are pursuing rival theories potentially including the possibility of a laboratory accident in China.

HERE IS WHAT HAS HAPPENED SO FAR:

All hypotheses still open in probe of Covid origins: WHO

The World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus earlier this year distanced himself from the findings of a WHO-led mission, written jointly with Chinese scientists, that investigated the origins of the virus.

The report issued on March 30 said the virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal, and that a lab leak was “extremely unlikely” as a cause.

WHO chief said data had been withheld from the team and that the lab issue required further investigation.

Also See: China under pressure after WHO chief revives lab leak theory

US takes note of WHO report, cites ‘deep concerns’

On February 13, soon after Joe Biden took oath as the US President, the White House called on China to make available data from the earliest days of the Covid-19 outbreak, saying it has “deep concerns” about the way the findings of the WHO’s report were communicated.

Security personnel outside Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by the World Health Organization (WHO) team, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. (Reuters)

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement that it is imperative that the report be independent and free from “alteration by the Chinese government”, echoing concerns raised by the administration of former President Donald Trump, who also moved to quit the WHO over the issue.

China was quick to respond. A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy said the United States had damaged multilateral cooperation and the WHO in recent years, and should not be “pointing fingers” at China and other countries that supported the WHO during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lab theory leak cannot be ruled out, say leading scientists

This was followed by an open letter to WHO by prominent scientists who called for a new investigation into the origins of the virus.

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 there is a rigorous data-led investigation that proves it wrong, a group of leading scientists said.

“We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data,” the scientists said, adding that an intellectually rigorous and dispassionate investigation needed to take place.

A noted British science writer, editor and author claimed that researchers at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology were doing gain-of-function experiments designed to make coronaviruses infect human cells and humanised mice, and this is exactly the kind of experiment from which a Covid-19-like virus could have emerged.

In an article titled ‘The origin of Covid: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan’ published in the prestigious Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists early this month, Nicholas Wade raised several questions on the origin of the novel coronavirus.

Also See: Coronavirus intentionally released, Chinese govt leading misinformation campaign: Dr Le-Meng Yan | Interview

US media report claims 3 Wuhan lab researchers sought hospital care before outbreak

The Wuhan Institute of Virology returned to the spotlight when a report in the US media in May claimed that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019, weeks before China disclosed the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report, which cited a previously undisclosed American intelligence document, added weight to growing calls for a full scale probe of whether the coronavirus may have escaped from China’s top bio lab.

The details of the reporting go beyond a State Department fact sheet, issued during the final days of the Trump administration, which said several researchers at the Wuhan lab, a centre for the study of coronaviruses and other pathogens, became sick in autumn 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

“Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care,” the paper mentioned.

China, nevertheless, denied the report, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian saying the WIV launched an announcement on March 23 that made it clear that there have been zero Covid-19 infections on the institute.

China additionally repeatedly instructed the virus might as an alternative come from a US laboratory. “What is the real purpose for the US to continue to play up the so-called “lab leak theory”? Does it really care about the origin-tracing of the virus or just want to divert attention? We hope that the relevant departments in the US will make a clarification and explain that to the world as soon as possible,” China said.

Also See: India demands comprehensive, expert-led mechanism to expeditiously investigate origin of Covid-19

Lab leak theory starts gaining credence; Biden steps in

Taking note of the report, US Health Secretary Xavier Becerra urged the WHO to ensure that the next phase of the investigation into Covid-19’s origins are more “transparent” and “science-based”.

Reuters file photo of US President Joe Biden

On May 26, President Joe Biden said the US intelligence community is divided on the question of where Covid-19 emerged from, including whether it came from human contact with an infected animal or a laboratory accident.

Joe Biden announced that he has called for further investigation into the pandemic’s origins. Intelligence agencies are considering two likely scenarios but still lack strong confidence in their conclusions and are hotly debating which is more probable, Biden said.

Biden’s unusual public disclosure about inconclusive US intelligence assessments revealed a debate raging within his administration over where the novel coronavirus originated. It also lent credence to a theory that the virus may have emerged from a Chinese research laboratory instead of in nature.

Taking a dig at the US, China said it supports “a comprehensive study of all early cases of Covid-19 found worldwide and a thorough investigation into some secretive bases and biological laboratories all over the world,” the embassy said in remarks attributed to a spokesperson, posted on its website.

Redouble efforts to trace origins of Covid: Biden

US President Joe Biden asked his intelligence agencies on Wednesday (May 26) to redouble their efforts to find out the origins of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.

“I have now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days,” Biden said in a statement.

As part of that report, the president said he has asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China.

Back in early 2020, when Covid-19 emerged, Biden had called for the CDC to get access to China to learn about the virus so that the US could fight it more effectively.

“…shortly after I became President, in March, I had my National Security Advisor task the Intelligence Community to prepare a report on their most up-to-date analysis of the origins of COVID-19, including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident,” the US President said.

“I received that report earlier this month, and asked for additional follow-up. As of today, the US Intelligence Community has coalesced around two likely scenarios but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question. Here is their current position: while two elements in the IC lean toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter — each with low or moderate confidence — the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other,” Biden said.

The hypothesis of a leak of the virus from the Chinese laboratory was previously fueled mainly by Donald Trump and his acolytes, and the matter became mired in the country’s divided politics.

“Now everybody is agreeing that I was right when I very early on called Wuhan as the source of Covid-19,” the former president said Tuesday.

“To me it was obvious from the beginning but I was badly criticized, as usual. Now they are all saying ‘He was right.’ Thank you!”

Also See: WHO Covid-19 origin study delayed, lacked access: US, 13 countries express concern

What have experts said?

US experts, meanwhile, remain cautious as to the origin of the pandemic. Dr Anthony Fauci, a White House coronavirus adviser, said he and most others in the scientific community “believe that the most likely scenario is that this was a natural occurrence, but no one knows that 100% for sure.”

I nonetheless imagine that the probably state of affairs is that this was a pure prevalence, however nobody is aware of that 100% for certain.

– Dr Anthony Fauci

“And since there’s a lot of concern, a lot of speculation and since no one absolutely knows that, I believe we do need the kind of investigation where there’s open transparency and all the information that’s available, to be made available, to scrutinize,” Fauci mentioned at a Senate listening to.

The reality might by no means be recognized, mentioned Scott Gottlieb, a former head of the Food and Drug Administration.

Research into the origins of the virus is critically essential, mentioned Arinjay Banerjee, a virologist on the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Saskatchewan, Canada, as a result of, “If you don’t know where it came from, how are you going to stop it from spreading it again?”

How has China responded?

The Chinese Embassy in Washington, with out mentioning the Biden order, accused unnamed political forces of being fixated on a blame recreation whereas ignoring the pressing need to fight the pandemic.

“Smear campaign and blame-shifting are making a comeback, and the conspiracy theory of ‘lab leak’ is resurfacing,” the embassy mentioned in an announcement posted on May 26 on its web site.

Also Read | Explainer: What the WHO coronavirus experts learned in Wuhan

Also Read | Bat out of hell? Covid is global but questions over Wuhan lab leak won’t go away

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