Scientists Should Probe Lab Leak Origin of COVID-19, Analysts Say

Analysts say there is increasing interest in determining whether the coronavirus leaked from a research lab in Wuhan, China, where the deadly virus was first detected in humans, as the U.S. intelligence community acts on President Joe Biden’s directive to “redouble” efforts to investigate the origins of COVID-19.Michael Pillsbury, director for Chinese strategy at the conservative FILE – The P4 laboratory of Wuhan Institute of Virology is seen behind a fence during the visit by the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Wuhan, China, Feb. 3, 2021.One of the Science letter signatories, David Relman, is a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Stanford University medical school. He criticized the WHO report in a May 20 interview with the medical school newsletter.”The report dedicated only 4 of its 313 pages to the possibility of a laboratory scenario, much of it under a header entitled ‘conspiracy theories,'” he said. “Multiple statements by one of the investigators lambasted any discussion of a laboratory origin as the work of dark conspiracy theorists.”Relman continued to say, “Given all this, it’s tough to give this WHO report much credibility. … Fortunately, WHO’s director-general recognizes some of the shortcomings of the WHO effort and has called for a more robust investigation, as have the governments of the United States, 13 other countries and the European Union.”Then on May 26, The Wall Street Journal A security guard watches residents wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus line up to receive the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in the Central Business District in Beijing, June 2, 2021.He continued to say that intelligence services “have experts and scientists that can bring in a formal, systematic, unbiased assessment. Because, at the end of the day, it’s this intelligence assessment (that) is going to the president of the United States. The intelligence community has no incentive to manipulate the data or information that is out there.”Pillsbury, when suggesting an examination of satellite imagery, pointed to a study conducted by Harvard Medical School researchers who put forward that the coronavirus may already have been spreading in China as early as August 2019.The Harvard researchers based this on “satellite imagery of hospital parking lots and Baidu search queries of disease related terms. … We observe(d) an upward trend in hospital traffic and search volume beginning in late Summer and early Fall 2019. While queries of the respiratory symptom ‘cough’ show seasonal fluctuations coinciding with yearly influenza seasons, ‘diarrhea’ is a more COVID-19 specific symptom and only shows an association with the current epidemic. The increase of both signals precedes the documented start of the COVID-19 pandemic in December.” Baidu is the dominant internet search engine in China.Beijing has dismissed the Harvard study as “ridiculous.”Pillsbury said the more important questions for investigators to ask should focus on the possibility of a cover-up and on when China’s President Xi Jinping knew of the existence of the virus that eventually became known as COVID-19.Pillsbury also told VOA Mandarin that the U.S. government’s involvement in WIV should be investigated.From late 2017 to early 2018, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing sent three teams of health and science diplomats to visit WIV, according to Politico. The diplomats suggested that Washington increase its funding to the WIV because of concerns over the lab’s lax safety standards. But the warning was ignored at the time, according to Politico and other media outlets.Referring to the 2017 and 2018 lab visits, Pillsbury said the new investigation into the origin of COVID-19 should be led by the scientists.Relman, when asked why it is important to understand the origins of COVID-19, told the Stanford newsletter, “Evidence favoring a natural spillover should prompt a wide variety of measures to minimize human contact with high-risk animal hosts. Evidence favoring a laboratory spillover should prompt intensified review and oversight of high-risk laboratory work and should strengthen efforts to improve laboratory safety. Both kinds of risk-mitigation efforts will be resource intensive, so it’s worth knowing which scenario is most likely.”

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