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Top researchers think COVID-19 may have escaped from a lab

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published a report, in collaboration with China, concluding that the origin of SARS-CoV-2 was most likely a transmission from bats to humans via a third animal. Additionally, the report concludes that a lab leak is “extremely unlikely” to be the originator by which caused the viral outbreak.

Many researchers around the world believe these conclusions should be further investigated. Eighteen scientists from some of the world’s top research institutions published a letter to the journal, Science, calling for a deeper investigation into the claims made by the report. In the letter, the researchers argue that there is not sufficient evidence to rule out that the SARS-CoV-2 virus escaped from a lab in China.

The closest relative of the virus that causes COVID-19 was found in bats

Dr. David Relman, Professor in Medicine specializing in microbiology & immunology at Stanford University and one of the authors of the letter stated, “We believe this question deserves a fair and thorough science-based investigation, and that any subsequent judgment should be made on the data available.”

Relman and his co-authors believe that the the investigators from the WHO were not provided with enough information to support the claims made in their report.

“Show us the test you used: What was the method? What were the results and the names of the people tested? Did you test a control population?” Relman said. “On all accounts, it was not an adequate, detailed kind of presentation of data that would allow an outside scientist to arrive at an independent conclusion.”

Chinese virologist, Shi Zhengli, is the director at the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology where she works with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Her lab has been under fire after a statement from a 2018 inspection surfaced stating, “during interactions with scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.”

Dr. Zhengli herself has even admitted that she did not conduct her coronavirus research in the biosafety level-4 areas, which require hazardous materials suits and extreme precautions. Instead, she said she worked in a biosafety level-2 lab, which requires only moderate precautions.

The WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was unsatisfied with the claims made in the investigative report as well. In a statement posted shortly after the report was published, he said, “I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough.”

“Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy,” he said in an address to WHO member states on March 30. “Let me say clearly that, as far as WHO is concerned, all hypotheses remain on the table.”

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