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Accidental COVID-19 laboratory-leak theory must be taken seriously and investigated, leading scientists declare

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The theory that the novel coronavirus was unleashed upon the world through a laboratory leak must be taken seriously until proven wrong by a data-driven investigation, Reuters reported, citing a group of leading scientists.

What are the details?

The outlet focused on a Friday letter from 18 scientists that was published in the journal Science indicating "more investigation is still needed to determine the origin of the pandemic."

Authors of the letter include Ravindra Gupta, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Cambridge; Jesse Bloom, who studies the evolution of viruses at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; and David Relman, professor of microbiology at Stanford.

Their letter states that "theories of accidental release from a lab and [animal-to-human transmission] both remain viable," and that "knowing how COVID-19 emerged is critical for informing global strategies to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks."

Lab-leak theory not taken seriously enough

The scientists who penned the letter called attention to the findings of a China–World Health Organization joint study released in November that indicated animal-to-human virus transmission from an intermediate host was "likely to very likely" while a laboratory incident was "extremely unlikely."

However, the letter states that "the two theories were not given balanced consideration. Only 4 of the 313 pages of the report and its annexes addressed the possibility of a laboratory accident" and that WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said as much while offering "to provide additional resources to fully evaluate the possibility."

The scientists who penned the letter indicated they possess "relevant expertise" on the subject and that they "agree with the WHO director-general, the United States, and 13 other countries, and the European Union that greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve."

"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 adds. "Public health agencies and research laboratories alike need to open their records to the public. Investigators should document the veracity and provenance of data from which analyses are conducted and conclusions drawn, so that analyses are reproducible by independent experts."

The letter from the scientists ended with kudos to China, saying that "in this time of unfortunate anti-Asian sentiment in some countries, we note that at the beginning of the pandemic, it was Chinese doctors, scientists, journalists, and citizens who shared with the world crucial information about the spread of the virus — often at great personal cost."

Anything else?

The notion that COVID-19 was leaked from a Wuhan, China, laboratory has long been a point of contention. Reports emerged in April 2020 reflecting that very theory.

Former President Donald Trump said last spring he was very confident that the coronavirus originated from a Wuhan virology lab, as did the majority of American intelligence agencies and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

In September, Twitter reportedly suspended the account of Chinese virologist Dr. Li-Meng Yan just hours after she told Fox News host Tucker Carlson that China intentionally manufactured and released the COVID-19 virus.

And just prior to President Joe Biden taking office in January, the U.S. State Department said it had new evidence possibly pointing to the coronavirus coming from a Wuhan lab — and that Chinese lab researchers might have been infected with COVID-19 before the first identified case of the outbreak.

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