Can't rule out COVID-19 lab-origin theory, rigorous investigation needed: Scientists

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15 May 2021: Can't rule out COVID-19 lab-origin theory, rigorous investigation needed: Scientists

The COVID-19 pandemic has been wreaking havoc, disrupting lives across the world since it broke out a year-and-a-half ago. Still, the origin of the novel coronavirus causing the deadly disease remains unclear.

Now, a group of top scientists says the lab-origin theory of the virus—that a laboratory leak caused the pandemic—must be taken seriously until a "rigorous" data-based investigation proves it wrong.

Here's more.

The need: Knowing how COVID-19 emerged is critical, say researchers

A group of 18 leading scientists, in a letter to Science journal, stated, "More investigation is still needed to determine the origin of the pandemic. Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable."

"Knowing how COVID-19 emerged is critical for informing global strategies to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks," said the scientists.

Statement: Outstripping what's possible to do with available evidence: Jesse Bloom

"Most of the discussion...about SARS-CoV-2 (novel coronavirus) origins...is coming from...the relatively small number of people who feel very certain about their views," one of the letter's organizers, Jesse Bloom—who studies the evolution of viruses at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center—told NYTimes.

"Anybody who's making statements with a high level of certainty...is just outstripping what's possible to do with the available evidence," he added.

WHO's report: WHO's probe didn't make balanced consideration of lab-origin theory: Scientists

The scientists argued investigation by World Health Organization (WHO) into the virus's origins didn't make "balanced consideration" of lab-origin theory.

A WHO-led team spent four weeks in China's Wuhan where the virus was first detected. In its final report—written jointly with Chinese researchers—the team said the virus was probably transmitted to humans from bats through another animal, asserting a lab leak was "extremely unlikely."

Different theories: Must take different hypotheses seriously until there's sufficient data

However, there are still many different theories about the virus's origin, including those by several researchers worldwide and various conspiracy theories, too.

Hence, the scientists wrote, "We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data." The letter's authors included Ravindra Gupta, Clinical Microbiologist, University of Cambridge, and David Relman, Professor of Microbiology, Stanford University, among others.

Fact: Scientists call for proper investigation into origins of virus

"A proper investigation (into the origins of the novel coronavirus) should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest," the scientists further stated in their letter.

Quote: Need for 'dispassionate science-based discourse on difficult but important issue'

"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...crucial information about the spread of the virus—often at great personal cost," stated the letter.

"We should show the same determination in promoting a dispassionate science-based discourse on this difficult but important issue," concluded the scientists.

COVID-19 situation: The virus so far infected over 16 crore people worldwide

After emerging in late 2019 in China, the novel coronavirus has infected more than 16.15 crore people and claimed the lives of over 33.5 lakh across the world, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

With more than 2.4 crore cases and over 2.62 lakh deaths, India is the second worst-hit country in the world, following the US, in terms of the number of infections.

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