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

Report says there's 'ample evidence' that proves the Wuhan Institute of Virology scientists were working to modify coronaviruses to infect humans. Republicans call for bipartisan probe.

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New Delhi: A report released by US Republicans Monday has claimed that the coronavirus that triggered the Covid-19 pandemic originated from a Chinese research facility — a theory that has been hotly debated since last year.

According to Reuters, the report dismissed the possibility of the virus originating from a wet market, as was first believed, and stated that ‘ample evidence’ proves it leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) before September, months before the world began to take notice of the disease.

“We now believe it’s time to completely dismiss the wet market as the source,” the report stated, adding, “We also believe the preponderance of the evidence proves the virus did leak from the WIV and that it did so sometime before September 12, 2019.”

Representative Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Representative for Texas’s 10th congressional district, released the report produced by the panel’s Republican staff, and called for a bipartisan investigation into the origins of Covid-19.

McCaul’s report parallels President Joe Biden’s efforts in the matter, who has tasked US intelligence agencies with finding the origins of the disease.

A separate investigation by the World Health Organization, that saw scientists travel to Wuhan, the Chinese city where WIV is located and the first official Covid-19 case was registered in December 2019, said the virus most likely had natural origins, most likely a bat, before travelling to another animal and then into the human body.

The US, however, was sceptical of the report, expressing doubts regarding the methodology since the Chinese were involved in the process too. In a joint statement with 13 allies, it asked to work on the study again, along with the WHO.

Also read: I was on WHO’s Covid mission to China. Here’s what we found

Clue in safety protocols

The Republican report mentioned what it called new and under-reported information about “safety protocols at the lab”, including a July 2019 request for a $1.5 million overhaul of a hazardous waste treatment system for the facility, according to Reuters.

It further stated that at the WIV, scientists were working to modify coronaviruses to infect humans and such manipulation could be hidden.

The WIV receives heavy funding from both the US and the Chinese government.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director, US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledged that the US gave WIV hundreds of thousands of dollars for research, but denied it was specifically for the dangerous “gain of function” studies, which involves manipulating pathogens in a way that they gain an advantage in or through a function, such as increased transmissibility.

The National Institutes of Health of the United States earmarked $600,000 for a nonprofit linked to WIV.

Beijing has been steadfast in rejecting claims that a genetically modified strain of the coronavirus leaked from the lab.

However, the scientific community has remained divided on this. Earlier in June, findings by DRASTIC, a disparate group of ‘amateur sleuths’, added to the debate after they put together information available in the public domain to support the lab leak theory.

DRASTIC discovered that the WIV was actively working with the viruses uncovered in a bat cave in China, “using inadequate safety protocols, in ways that could have triggered the pandemic, and that the lab and Chinese authorities have gone to great lengths to conceal these activities”. The first cases of Covid-19, it turns out, had appeared “weeks before the outbreak at the Huanan wet market that was once thought to be ground zero”.

Meanwhile, Biden had in May asked US intelligence agencies to accelerate their investigation into the virus’ origins and draw up a report in 90 days. A source familiar with the current intelligence assessment told Reuters that no conclusion has yet been reached on whether the virus originated from animals or WIV.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: Before Wuhan row, how US-China created SARS-like virus in 2015 to show its pandemic potential


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