Washington, United States: Long dismissed as a bizarre conspiracy theory supported by the far right, the hypothesis that Covid arose from a Wuhan lab leak is gaining traction in the United States.
In recent weeks, the government’s stance has moved to agnosticism, with senior pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci and CDC director Rochelle Walensky both stating that they are open to all possibilities.
“We need to get to the bottom of this and we need a completely transparent process from China, we need the WHO (World Health Organization) to assist in that matter,” senior White House Covid advisor Andy Slavitt said Tuesday.
The call for more research contrasts with the early stages of the epidemic when scientists rapidly agreed that the virus had spread from bats to humans via an intermediary species.
The trouble is that this link has yet to be discovered, according to Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, and it isn’t for lack of trying.
SARS and MERS, two previous coronaviruses that infected people, were rapidly traced back to civets and camels.
“The question for a lot of people is going to be when are too many coincidences too much?” added Gottlieb.
The Wall Street Journal said on Sunday, citing a US intelligence source, that a trio from the Wuhan Institute of Virology was hospitalized in November 2019 with a seasonal disease.
On December 31, 2019, China informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of an outbreak of pneumonia cases in Wuhan.
The Journal report was slammed by Beijing as “completely incorrect.”
Transparency is required
After an international mission to China, earlier this year proved fruitless, the US and other countries asked for a more in-depth investigation into the pandemic’s roots on Tuesday.
A long-awaited assessment by a WHO team of experts dispatched to Wuhan and their Chinese colleagues came up with no strong conclusions on the pandemic’s origins.
A natural origin was the most likely scenario, according to the report, and a notion involving the virus leaking from a laboratory was “extremely unlikely.”
However, once the report was issued, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed that all possibilities were still on the table.
Scientists are increasingly calling for more transparency.
“We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data,” a group of researchers from top US universities wrote in a letter published by the journal Science in mid-May.
The virus has killed over 3.4 million people globally, and figuring out how it spread to humans is critical to preventing the next pandemic.
The theory of a virus leak from a Chinese laboratory was earlier supported mostly by Donald Trump and his acolytes in the United States, and the topic became embroiled in the country’s split 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!”
Many experts, on the other hand, are wary.
“Many of us feel that it is more likely that this is a natural occurrence, as has happened before,” Fauci told reporters Tuesday.
“But we don’t know 100 percent the answer to that.”
According to Gottlieb, the truth may never be known. Unless there is a whistleblower or a political change in China, there will be no evidence of a lab leak.