Another group of scientists has called for a deeper investigation into the origins of the new coronavirus, including the possibility that a laboratory accident released the new coronavirus that caused the pandemic. The group of 18 scientists said in a letter published Thursday (May 13) in the journal Science that there is not enough evidence to determine whether a natural origin or an accidental laboratory leak caused the new coronavirus pandemic.
In the letter, the international panel of 18 biologists, immunologists and other scientists criticizes the findings of a World Health Organization-led panel’s report on the origin of the outbreak released in March and calls for a broader assessment of two main hypotheses. The two main hypotheses are that the virus began spreading after jumping from infected animals to humans and that the virus began spreading after escaping from a laboratory and jumping to humans.
A WHO-led team of scientists from China and several other countries conducted a field investigation into the origin of the virus in China last January and said in a report officially released March 30 that there was no definitive evidence for either hypothesis, but the team concluded that it was the more likely scenario that the virus originated in an animal and “highly unlikely ” to have leaked from a laboratory.
The group of scientists, who called for a deeper investigation into the origin of the virus, wrote in the letter that “until sufficient data are available, we must take both hypotheses about natural and laboratory spills seriously.”
They mentioned that only four pages of the 313-page WHO investigation report were devoted to the possibility of a laboratory accident. They also expressed concern that the panel was unable to obtain original epidemiological data on the first confirmed cases or earlier suspected cases in China.
The letter calls for a new and more rigorous investigation into the origin of the virus, involving a wider range of experts and minimizing the impact of conflicts of interest.
Signatories to the letter include well-respected scientists actively involved in the study of new coronaviruses, such as Jesse Bloom, a computational biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle; Ralph Baric, a coronavirus researcher who has collaborated with scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virus Research in China; and Stanford University School of Medicine David Relman, a microbiologist and immunologist at Stanford University School of Medicine. In an interview with the Voice of America at the beginning of the WHO report, Professor Relman criticized the WHO’s “assessments that don’t seem to be based on actual solid data.
The call for further investigation into the origin of the virus echoes statements by the Biden administration and other countries, as well as by Dr. Tandse, director general of the WHO, urging further investigation.
Unlike other recent calls, this letter does not support any one hypothesis. Another group of scientists and international affairs experts argued in detail about the relative likelihood of a laboratory leak in a recently released open letter.
On Wednesday, an independent panel established by the WHO to assess how the new coronavirus was transmitted concluded that the virus was spread from animals. The panel did not recommend any updates to current laboratory safety protocols.
A WHO spokeswoman said the organization is considering the recommendations in the March report and will prepare a proposal for a series of studies to be conducted next, which will then be submitted to the director general for his consideration.