The theory that novel coronavirus is caused by a laboratory leak needs to be investigated seriously until rigorous data proves it wrong and gives clear evidence about its origin, a group of leading scientists urged.
“More investigation is still needed to determine the origin of the pandemic,” said a group of 18 scientists, including Ravindra Gupta, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Cambridge, and Jesse Bloom, who studies the evolution of viruses at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
“Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable,” the scientists including David Relman, professor of microbiology at Stanford, said in a letter to the journal Science.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which emerged in China in late 2019, has killed 3.34 million people, cost the world trillions of dollars in lost income and upended normal life for billions of people.
The authors of the letter said the World Health Organization’s (WHO) investigation into the origins of the virus had not made a balanced consideration of the theory that it may have come from a laboratory incident.
In its final report, written jointly with Chinese scientists, a WHO-led team that spent four weeks in and around Wuhan in January and February said that the virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal and that a lab leak was extremely unlikely as a cause. But there are countless ideas about the origin of the virus including a series of conspiracy theories.
The scientists said that hypotheses about natural and laboratory spillovers must seriously be considered until sufficient data is collected and further added that an intellectually rigorous and dispassionate investigation is needed.
“In this time of unfortunate anti-Asian sentiment in some countries, we note that at the beginning of the pandemic, it was Chinese doctors, scientists, journalists, and citizens who shared with the world crucial information about the spread of the virus, often at great personal cost,” the scientists said.