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Covid lab leak theory needs more research to investigate possibility, say WHO advisers

While the lab theory remains in limbo, mounting evidence suggests that a seafood market in Wuhan where early cases appeared was not the source of the infection, the WHO report said.

This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid | Photographer: BSIP/IMAGE POINT FR/NIH/NIAID/BSIP/Universal Images Group/Getty Images via Bloomberg
This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid | Photographer: BSIP/IMAGE POINT FR/NIH/NIAID/BSIP/Universal Images Group/Getty Images via Bloomberg

New York: More information and research are needed to investigate the possibility that a laboratory incident was the source of the coronavirus strain that set off the pandemic, World Health Organization advisers said in a report.

Review of all activities at the laboratory studying coronaviruses in Wuhan, where the outbreak began, would be needed to determine whether it played a role in releasing the virus into the world, the WHO’s Scientific Advisory Group on the Origins of Novel Pathogens, said Thursday in its first full report since forming in October. Further study of a market that’s also been identified as another possible source are also necessary, the report said.

“There has not been any new data made available to evaluate the laboratory as a pathway of SARS-CoV-2 into the human population and recommends further investigations into this and all other possible pathways,” the report said. The group met in person for the first time last week in Geneva.

More than two years into the pandemic, its origins remain a tantalizing and polarizing mystery. China has resisted efforts to investigate the role of the viral laboratory, and critics have suggested a cover-up of a deliberate program to create dangerous pathogens. Some scientists say, however, that the virus could have escaped from a lab accidentally.

Labs all over the world, including the US, study pathogens with pandemic potential, and on occasion documented biosafety breaches have occurred. So far, the WHO advisers haven’t found conclusive evidence that this was what happened in the case of Covid, but the group also says it lacks the data needed to fully investigate that theory. Three members of the advisory group said they didn’t support the continued investigation of the laboratory as a source.

While the lab theory remains in limbo, mounting evidence suggests that a seafood market in Wuhan where early cases appeared was not the source of the infection, the report says. More likely is the possibility that the virus began spreading rapidly or crossed over into an animal sold there. More research into such possibilities is also needed, the report said.

Animal sources of SARS-CoV-2 have yet to be confirmed. Bats in Wuhan were found to carry a virus strain that is 96.8% identical to the original strain found in humans in Wuhan. Scientists are still looking into how the virus was transferred to humans — raccoons and civets may have played a role. They’re also looking at evidence that the virus may have been found in countries other than China before the outbreak was recognized in December 2019. –Bloomberg


Also read: Covid lab leak theory back in focus, Republican report says evidence points to Wuhan institute


 

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