This article has been updated with details of two new preprints, one of which states that an endonuclease fingerprint indicates a synthetic origin of SARS-CoV-2, and information about a new report in which Republicans on a US Senate committee state that the Covid-19 pandemic was, “more likely than not”, the result of a research-related incident.
A group of independent investigators and scientists have produced a new report in which they challenge claims that SARS-CoV-2 emerged from the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan via zoonosis.
The report’s authors focus in particular on claims made by Michael Worobey, who heads the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona in the US and is a leading proponent of the zoonosis theory.
“We find that the arguments by Worobey et al. that SARS-CoV-2 emerged from the Huanan seafood market via zoonosis and the hypothesis that at least two separate zoonotic jumps from wild animals occurred at the HSM are not supported by data,” the independent investigators state in their report.
“Consequently, we conclude the most likely scenario is that an infected person brought the virus to the HSM, sparking a superspreader event.”
Worobey hit the headlines in February this year when two studies he co-authored were published as preprints (‘The Huanan market was the epicenter of SARS-CoV-2 emergence’ and ‘SARS-CoV-2 emergence very likely resulted from at least two zoonotic events’, both published on February 26).
The New York Time hailed the two studies as a “significant salvo” in the debate about the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Worobey was quoted by the New York Times as saying: “When you look at all of the evidence together, it’s an extraordinarily clear picture that the pandemic started at the Huanan market.”
The papers co-authored by Worobey did not, however, identify an animal at the Huanan seafood market that spread SARS-CoV-2 to humans.
The preprints later passed peer review and a new paper, ‘The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was the early epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic’ was published in Science on July 26.
Alina Chan, who is co-author of the book ‘VIRAL: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19′, said in an article published on Medium in July this year that, after peer review, “unscientific language” was removed from the Worobey et al. manuscript.
“However, these strong claims in the preprint had already been widely reported in the media back in February 2022,” Chan said.
Chan tweeted: “In order to argue for a market origin, Worobey and Pekar et al. had to (i) rule out the more likely scenario of a later infected case bringing the B variant to the market and (ii) explain why none of the early market cases had been infected with the A variant.
“This is why they came up with the 2 strains 2 spillover hypothesis, which stands on incredible shaky legs.”
Chan says in her Medium article that all of the observations that Worobey et al. cite as signs that the market was the outbreak epicenter “can be easily explained by the ascertainment bias with which early cases were identified”.
She noted that there were no longer claims of “dispositive or incontrovertible evidence” in the peer-reviewed paper, and the peer-reviewed paper had an entirely new section about study limitations, in which the authors acknowledged that they did not have access to the early Covid-19 case data or locations, lacked direct evidence of a market animal infected with the pandemic virus, and lacked complete details of how the market had been sampled for the virus.
Chan added: “At the very least, after peer review, the Worobey et al. 2022 paper now says: ‘However, the observation that the preponderance of early cases were linked to the Huanan market does not establish that the pandemic originated there.'”
The report published on zenodo.org on October 9 was written by four independent investigators (Daoyu Zhang, Gilles Demaneuf, Adrian Jones, and Yuri Deigin¹), along with the founder of Seattle-based Atossa Therapeutics Steven Quay, Steven Massey from the University of Puerto Rico, and Louis Nemzer from the Halmos College of Arts and Sciences at Nova Southeastern University in Florida in the US.
Quay was one of the scientists who presented written and oral testimony to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight on August 3 this year in a hearing entitled ‘Revisiting Gain of Function Research: What the Pandemic Taught Us and Where Do We Go From Here’.
Zhang et al. state: “We find that the datasets and analyses put forward in support of zoonosis are biased, and lack sufficient verifiable data to support this hypothesis.”
They point to three studies: one by researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and Huazhong Agricultural University (HZAU), one by Wu et al., and a more extensive study by Gao et al. All the studies concluded that the Huanan seafood market was likely to be a superspreader location and not the source of SARS-CoV-2.
“We concur with this conclusion, as the earliest case locations are removed from wildlife stalls, no wildlife seller contracted Covid-19, SARS-CoV-2 positive environmental specimens are most strongly associated with human gene sequences, and no animals tested positive for the virus,” Zhang et al. state.
“Furthermore the distribution of Covid-19 cases are not consistent with a single point source and instead exhibit a distribution consistent with a Poisson point process model², and are consistent with human-to-human transmission in shared communal areas such as eating areas and toilets.
“The distribution of cases and distribution of wildlife stalls are consistent with independent Poisson point process models and zoonotic spillover cannot be inferred.”
Zhang et al. say that, although proposed as the intermediate spillover host, raccoon dogs were unlikely to be linked with the outbreak as they were sold in Wuhan in small numbers and there was no epidemiological evidence indicating any infection of a raccoon dog, or any other wild or domestic animal, before or during the early pandemic, at any market elsewhere in Wuhan, or even in the rest of China.
The researchers add that four of the earliest identifiable cases of Covid-19 with onset from December 10 to 16, 2019, were not linked to the Huanan seafood market, “clearly indicating human-to-human transmission outside of the HSM …”.
They say the distribution of environmental PCR-positive samples is more spatially consistent with Covid-19 case contamination and spread from the HSM toilets than from wildlife stall locations.
“Furthermore, the very small quantities of potentially susceptible wild animals sold in Wuhan markets relative to other cities and towns in China where wild game is widely eaten makes an outbreak in Wuhan – and only Wuhan of all places in China – extremely unlikely from a probability perspective,” Zhang et al. add.
New funding for EcoHealth Alliance sparks outrage
The publication of the report by Zhang et al. comes amid growing controversy over new funding that has been granted to the US-based EcoHealth Alliance (EHA), which has failed to comply with requests from Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans in their investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has approved a $653,392 grant to enable the EHA to analyse the potential for future bat coronavirus emergence in Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam.
If the EHA is funded for the full five years of the project the total grant would amount to more than $3.2 million.
Peter Daszak and the EHA assert that their project “builds on two decades of work that identifies the border region of Southern China, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam as a high risk for future emergence of novel coronaviruses and the potential site where SARS-CoV-2 first ‘spilled over’ from bats to people”.
Asked for his reaction to this statement Richard Ebright, who is a molecular biologist at Rutgers University in the US, tweeted: “EcoHealth has nothing to build on except having unequivocally failed to prevent a pandemic and having possibly caused a pandemic.”
Ebright is one of an international group of 26 scientists who, in an open letter published on March 4 last year, called for a “full and unrestricted international forensic investigation into the origins of Covid-19”.
Daszak and the EHA say they will conduct in-depth surveys and serological testing in communities with high exposure to wildlife, identify wildlife reservoirs of the coronaviruses they are exposed to, “and use clinic-based surveillance to assess cases and clusters of associated illnesses, as well as testing public health strategies to disrupt spillover and spread”.
They say that they will rapidly supply viral sequences and isolates for use in vaccine and therapeutic development, “including ‘prototype pathogen’ vaccines, via an existing MOU with the NIAID-CREID network”.
They list their specific aims as follows:
- Community-based surveys and biological sampling of people frequently exposed to wildlife in Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, to find serological evidence of spillover and assess behavioural, social structure, spatial connectivity, and mobility factors that lead to exposure, spillover, and spread.
- Sampling and PCR screening of bats and other wildlife at community surveillance sites to identify viruses and hosts related to the human infections detected in Aim 1, full genome sequencing and cell entry assays to assess ability to infect human cells, and machine learning approaches to estimate the zoonotic potential of each novel CoV.
- Syndromic PCR-based surveillance in clinics to identify ‘cryptic’ cases or case clusters caused by bat-CoVs and contact tracing to assess whether cases represent initial spillover or community spread events.
In August last year the National Institutes of Health (NIH) informed the EHA that it was terminating the subaward from the EHA to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) “due to material non-compliance with terms and conditions of award that cannot be remedied by specific award conditions”.
The NIH said the NIAID would work with the EHA “to explore renegotiating the remainder of the award to proceed without involvement from WIV, if the award can be renegotiated without representing a significant scientific departure from the original, peer reviewed project”.
If the award was not able to be renegotiated without such a departure, the NIH said, then the NIH would request a bilateral termination and the EHA would be able to submit a new application for funding of the revised project.
The NIH wrote to the Republican leader on the US House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Congressman James Comer, saying the WIV had been “unable to fulfil its duties for the subaward under grant R01AI110964”.
The NIH said the subaward to the WIV was terminated “for failure to meet award terms and conditions requiring provision of records to NIH upon request”.
Peter Daszak is one of the leading proponents of the theory that SARS-CoV-2 originated via zoonosis. In September last year an international group of ten scientists and health experts called on the EHA board to remove him as the organisation’s president.
Daszak “concealed several extreme situations of conflict of interest, withheld critical information, and misled public opinion by expressing falsehoods”, the ten experts said.
The Republican leader of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, said in a statement issued on October 3: “EcoHealth Alliance and Peter Daszak should not be getting a dime of taxpayer funds until they are completely transparent. Period. This is madness.”
Daszak (pictured left) has been under the spotlight since early on in the Covid-19 pandemic. There were serious concerns about his presence in the WHO team that went to Wuhan in January/February 2021.
The NIH has given the EHA millions of dollars in funding to conduct research in collaboration with scientists at the WIV.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal on September 25, 2021, Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs said he had disbanded the Covid-19 commission’s task force because he was concerned about its links to the EcoHealth Alliance.
Reporter Betsy McKay quoted Sachs as saying: “I just didn’t want a task force that was so clearly involved with one of the main issues of this whole search for the origins, which was EcoHealth Alliance.”
It was Daszak who drafted a statement from 27 health scientists that was published in The Lancet on February 19, 2020, and condemned as “conspiracy theories” suggestions that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin.
In an email sent in April 2020, and obtained by BuzzFeed News via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, Daszak thanks the director of the NIAID, Anthony Fauci, for “publicly standing up and stating that the scientific evidence supports a natural origin for Covid-19 from a bat-to-human spillover, not a lab release from the Wuhan Institute of Virology”.
Daszak is one of the co-authors of a new paper, published on October 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Another of the co-authors is Marion Koopmans from the Department of Viroscience and the Pandemic and Disaster Preparedness Centre at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, who was also in the WHO team that went to Wuhan in January/February 2021.
The report’s authors, who are members of the former Lancet task force who continued to meet after the task force was disbanded, state: “The increasing scientific evidence concerning the origins of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) is most consistent with a zoonotic origin and a spillover pathway from wildlife to people via wildlife farming and the wildlife trade.”
They say that “considerable scientific peer-reviewed evidence” supports Covid-19’s origin as a zoonotic infection within the wildlife trade.
“While a laboratory leak cannot be ruled out, no verifiable evidence or scientific data are available to support this interpretation,” they write.
Richard Ebright did not mince his words when, on Twitter, he described the panel of authors as an “EcoHealth-Alliance-led, conflict-of-interest-riddled, disbanded task force panel”.
Ebright tweeted: “Report was authored by five EcoHealth employees or EcoHealth grant co-investigators/subcontractors (Daszak, Field, Anderson, Wacharapluesadee, and Keusch), only two of whom listed EcoHealth affiliations, and none of whom declared EcoHealth affilations as a conflict of interest …,
“ … and six signers of EcoHealth’s 2020 Lancet letter dismissing the research-related spillover as ‘conspiracy theories’ (Daszak, Field, Keusch, Lam, Perlman, and Saif), none of whom declared this preconceived conclusion as a possible conflict of interest.”
Ebright says that documents obtained by the news organisation The Intercept, and published on September 7, 2021, show that two NIH grants to the EcoHealth Alliance, with subcontracts to the WIV, “funded gain-of-function research as defined in federal policies in effect in 2014–2017 and potential pandemic pathogen enhancement as defined in federal policies in effect in 2017–present”.
It is stated in the grant documentation: “No funds are provided and no funds can be used to support gain-of-function research covered under the October 17, 2014 White House Announcement (NIH Guide Notice NOT-OD-15-011).”
Public pronouncements hide private concerns
It has become clear that while Fauci and other scientists publicly supported the zoonosis hypothesis they, in private, expressed serious concerns that SARS-CoV-2 could have had a laboratory origin.
Fauci, along with the former director of the NIH Francis Collins and at least eleven other scientists discussed Covid-19 during a conference call on February 1, 2020, organised by the director of the Wellcome Trust, Jeremy Farrar, who was one of the signatories of the February 19, 2020, statement in The Lancet.
During the call, Fauci (pictured left) and Collins were warned that Covid-19 may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and may have been intentionally genetically manipulated.
However, just days after the conference call, four of the call’s participants (Kristian Andersen, Robert Garry, Edward Holmes, and Andrew Rambaut), along with Walter Ian Lipkin, authored a paper entitled ‘The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2’, which was published in Nature Medicine on March 17.
Andersen et al. said it was improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus because the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) binding was not ideal.
They said they did not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario for the origin of SARS-CoV-2 was plausible.
Emails exchanged between Fauci and Andersen, who is one of the most well-known proponents of the zoonosis hypothesis, and between Andersen and Daszak, show that, in January/February 2020, Andersen made a dramatic about-turn in his comments about the possible origin of SARS-CoV-2.
On January 31, 2020, Andersen had written about SARS-CoV-2 having “unusual features”, some of which “potentially look engineered”.
Only a few days later, on February 4, Andersen said in an email to Daszak: “The main crackpot theories going around at the moment relate to this virus being somehow engineered with intent and that is demonstrably not the case.”
Andersen wrote that “fringe theories” should be countered “strongly and in plain language (‘consistent with’ [natural evolution] is a favorite of mine when talking to scientists, but not when talking to the public – especially conspiracy theorists)”.
On February 3, 2022, James Comer; Jim Jordan, who is a Republican ranking member on the Committee on the Judiciary; and Steve J. Scalise, who is a member of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, wrote to Farrar, Andersen, Garry, Holmes, Rambaut, Lipkin, and Michael Farzan stating that it was imperative that the seven “provide answers under oath about what, if any, underlying science changed in a matter of days after meeting with top government health officials”.
The politicians added: “Alarmingly, it appears that the decision to suppress the lab-leak hypothesis was rooted in political calculations rather than scientific principles.
“NIH documents show that scientists on the February 1, 2020, teleconference pushed the natural evolution theory because they believed the lab-leak hypothesis could cause China too much scrutiny.”
Garry, Holmes, Rambaut, and Anderson were co-authors with Worobey and others, including Marion Koopmans, of ‘The Huanan market was the epicenter of SARS-CoV-2 emergence’ paper published on February 26, 2022.
Lancet commission report
The Lancet commission report about the Covid-19 pandemic that was published on September 14, 2022, stands out in stark contrast to the letter published in the journal in February 2020.
In the commission report Sachs et al. said that both hypotheses for the origin of SARS-CoV-2 – “a zoonotic spillover from wildlife or a farm animal, possibly through a wet market, in a location that is still undetermined” or emergence from a research-related incident, during the field collection of viruses or through a laboratory-associated escape – required further scientific investigation.
Sachs et al. said in their recommendations: “WHO, governments, and the scientific community should intensify the search for the origins of SARS-CoV-2, investigating both a possible zoonotic origin and a possible research-associated origin.
“The search for origins requires unbiased, independent, transparent, and rigorous work by international teams in virology, epidemiology, bioinformatics, and other related fields.”
In the absence of an unbiased, independent, and rigorous search for a natural origin by a multidisciplinary team of experts alongside an unbiased, independent, and rigorous investigation of the research-related hypotheses, the public’s trust in science would be imperilled, with potentially grave long-term repercussions, Sachs et al. said.
Sachs et al. noted that a group of 16 scientists authored a correspondence in The Lancet that was published on September 17, 2021, in which they said that overwhelming evidence for either a zoonotic or research-related origin was lacking; that the jury was still out.
In the September 17 letter, Jacques Van Helden et al. said that the February 2020 letter had “imparted a silencing effect on the wider scientific debate, including among science journalists”. They said there was no direct support for the natural origin of SARS-CoV-2, and a laboratory-related accident was “plausible”.
Sachs et al. said in their report: “More than two years into the pandemic, the search for the origin of SARS-CoV-2 remains incomplete and inconclusive”.
They referenced the National Intelligence Council’s updated assessment on Covid-19 origins, published on October 29, 2021, and the WHO-convened Global Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2: China Part, published in March 2021.
“Independent experts consulted by the Lancet Covid-19 Commission shared the view that hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers are in play and need further investigation,” they said.
Sachs et al. said in their report: “Although the proximal origins are unknown, SARS-CoV-2 is thought to derive from a bat SARS-CoV-related coronavirus with a furin cleavage site that enhances the capacity of the virus to infect human cells.
“Furin cleavage sites are found naturally in almost every family of coronavirus, although they have not been observed in other SARS-related coronaviruses (subgenus Sarbecoronavirus).
“Since 2006, following the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome, furin cleavage sites have also been the subject of laboratory manipulation, including their insertion into coronavirus spike proteins. The presence of the furin cleavage site in SARS-CoV-2 therefore does not by itself identify the proximal origin of the virus, whether natural or laboratory.”
They added: “… as no animals in the market tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, it is not known whether the Covid-19 cases associated with this market indicate the actual proximal origin of the virus or a secondary outbreak brought by humans to the marketplace.
“Because the first emergence of the virus could well have been in November, 2019, or even earlier, the cases associated with the Huanan seafood market in mid-December, 2019, could well indicate a human-to- human amplifier event rather than the original animal-to-human spillover.”
Sachs et al. noted that, despite the testing of more than 80,000 samples from a range of wild and farm animal species in China collected between 2015 and March 2020 no cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection had been identified.
They added: “As of the time of publication of this report, all three research-associated hypotheses are still plausible: infection in the field, infection with a natural virus in the laboratory, and infection with a manipulated virus in the laboratory.
“No independent, transparent, and science-based investigation has been carried out regarding the bioengineering of SARS-like viruses that was underway before the outbreak of Covid-19.”
Sachs et al. point out that laboratory notebooks, databases, email records, and samples of institutions involved in such research have not been made available to independent researchers.
Independent researchers had not yet investigated the US laboratories engaged in the laboratory manipulation of SARS-CoV-like viruses, nor had they investigated the details of the laboratory research that had been underway in Wuhan, the researchers added.
“Moreover, the US National Institutes of Health has resisted disclosing details of the research on SARS-CoV-related viruses that it had been supporting, providing extensively redacted information only as required by Freedom of Information Act lawsuits,” Sachs et al. wrote.
“In brief, there are many potential proximal origins of SARS-CoV-2, but there is still a shortfall of independent, scientific, and collaborative work on the issue. The search for the origins of the virus requires unbiased, independent, transparent, and rigorous work by international teams in the fields of virology, epidemiology, bioinformatics, and other related fields, and supported by all governments.”
Sachs et al added: “As a commission, we strongly support the call for an objective, open, data-driven, transparent, and independent scientific debate about the origin of SARS-CoV-2.”
The commission members said it was crucial to investigate all hypotheses fully, “not only to ascertain the source of the pandemic and to protect against future emerging infectious diseases, but also to ensure the integrity of science itself”.
The perceived lack of transparency to date by leading scientific agencies and laboratories was troubling and needed to be addressed, they said.
In a preprint published on bioRxiv on October 13 AlexWashburne, AdrianJones, DaoyuZhang, YuriDeigin, tevenQuay, and Steven Massey state that the papers published in Science on July 26, 2022, by Worobey et al. and Pekar et al were inconclusive as they failed to account for biases in how medical managers became alerted to SARS-CoV-2 and how public health authorities sampled early cases.
analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genomes, to have established at least two separate spillover events from animals into humans, “thus claiming to provide strong evidence for the natural origin hypothesis”.claimed,
outbreak simulations to show that the findings of Pekar et al. were “heavily impacted by two methodological artifacts: the dubious exclusion of informative SARS-CoV-2 genomes, and their reliance on unrealistic phylodynamic models of SARS-CoV-2”.
add that, in the absence of models that incorporate these effects, one could not conclude multiple SARS-CoV-2 spillovers into humans. “Our results cast doubt on a primary point of evidence in favour of the natural origin hypothesis,” write.
In a preprint published on bioRxiv on October 20 Washburne, Valentin Bruttel, and Antonius VanDongen say there is an endonuclease fingerprint that indicates that SARS-CoV-2 had a synthetic origin.
Washburne et al. explain that, to construct synthetic variants of natural coronaviruses in the lab, researchers often use a method called in vitro genome assembly.
“This method utilises special enzymes called restriction enzymes to generate DNA building blocks that then can be ‘stitched’ together in the correct order of the viral genome,” Washburne et al. explain. “To make a virus in the lab, researchers usually engineer the viral genome to add and remove stitching sites, called restriction sites. The ways researchers modify these sites can serve as fingerprints of in vitro genome assembly.”
Washburne et al. say they found that SARS-CoV had a restriction site fingerprint that is typical for synthetic viruses.
“The genome of SARS-COV-2 contains a peculiar pattern of unique restriction endonuclease recognition sites allowing efficient dis- and re-assembly of the viral genome characteristic of synthetic viruses,” they write.
The researchers add: “The synthetic fingerprint of SARS-CoV-2 is anomalous in wild coronaviruses, and common in lab-assembled viruses.
“The type of mutations (synonymous or silent mutations) that differentiate the restriction sites in SARS-CoV-2 are characteristic of engineering, and the concentration of these silent mutations in the restriction sites is extremely unlikely to have arisen by random evolution. Both the restriction site fingerprint and the pattern of mutations generating them are extremely unlikely in wild coronaviruses and nearly universal in synthetic viruses. Our findings strongly suggest a synthetic origin of SARS-CoV-2.”
Washburne et al. say the restriction map of SARS-CoV-2 is consistent with many previously reported synthetic coronavirus genomes, meets all the criteria required for an efficient reverse genetic system, “differs from closest relatives by a significantly higher rate of synonymous mutations in these synthetic-looking recognitions sites”, and has a synthetic fingerprint unlikely to have evolved from its close relatives.
“We report a high likelihood that SARS-CoV-2 may have originated as an infectious clone assembled in vitro,” the researchers write.
Evolutionary biologist Nick Longrich tweeted: “It’s one more piece of the puzzle. In isolation it’s suggestive, but not definitive. But it fits with other evidence suggesting lab origin. By itself, not extraordinary evidence, but you could argue there’s now a pretty extraordinary set of facts consistent with lab escape.”
Richard Ebright tweeted: “My bottom-line assessment of the information in the preprint: Noteworthy. (More noteworthy, for example, than the information in the commentaries of Worobey et al. 2022 and Peckar et al. 2022.) But not decisive.”
Republicans on a US Senate committee have published a report in which they state that the Covid-19 pandemic was, “more likely than not”, the result of a research-related incident.
The senators’ conclusions are laid out in a 35-page interim report produced by the minority oversight staff on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
“Based on the analysis of the publicly available information, it appears reasonable to conclude that the Covid-19 pandemic was, more likely than not, the result of a research-related incident,” the committee members state.
Over 15 months, minority oversight staff on the HELP committee analysed hundreds of scientific studies and interviewed several dozen experts.
They state in their report: “While precedent of previous outbreaks of human infections from contact with animals favours the hypothesis that a natural zoonotic spillover is responsible for the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 that resulted in the Covid-19 pandemic was most likely the result of a research-related incident.
“This conclusion is not intended to be dispositive. The lack of transparency from government and public health officials in the PRC [People’s Republic of China] with respect to the origins of SARS-CoV-2 prevents reaching a more definitive conclusion.”
The senators say that new information, made publicly available and independently verifiable, could change their assessment, but “the hypothesis of a natural zoonotic origin no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt, or the presumption of accuracy”.
They note that, almost three years after the Covid-19 pandemic began, there is still no evidence of an animal infected with SARS-CoV-2, or a closely related virus, before the first publicly reported human Covid-19 cases in Wuhan in December 2019.
They say the following outstanding questions are critical and would need to be addressed “to be able to more definitively conclude the origins of SARS-CoV-2”:
- What is the intermediate host species for SARS-CoV-2?
- Where did the virus first infect humans?
- Where is SARS-CoV-2’s viral reservoir?
- How did SARS-CoV-2 acquire its unique genetic features, such as its furin cleavage site?
The senators say that advocates of a zoonotic origin theory “must provide clear and convincing evidence that a natural zoonotic spillover is the source of the pandemic, as was demonstrated for the 2002–2004 SARS outbreak”.
There needs to be verifiable evidence that a natural zoonotic spillover actually occurred, not simply that such a spillover could have occurred, they add.
“Governments, leaders, public health officials, and scientists involved in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and working to prevent future pandemics, must commit to greater transparency, engagement, and responsibility in their efforts,” the senators write.
Committee ranking member Richard Burr says in his foreword to the report that it is critical that international efforts to uncover additional information about the origins of SARS-CoV-2 continue.
“Uncovering the answers to this critical question is imperative to our national and international ability to ensure that a pandemic of this size and scope does not happen again,” Burr writes.
- Zhang, Demaneuf, and Massey are members of the original DRASTIC group (the Decentralised Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating Covid-19). Deigin formed a new group entitled Designated Research and Scientific Team Investigating Covid-19, and Jones and Zhang are both members.
- A Poisson process is a stochastic process (a mathematical description of random events that occur one after another). It counts the number of occurrences of an event leading up to a specified time.
Please see earlier Changing Times articles for more information about the calls for a full, independent investigation into the origin of SARS-CoV-2 and about documents released by DRASTIC regarding gain-of-function coronavirus research.
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