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Lancet Letter Urges 'Objective Debate' on COVID Origins, Says Lab-Related Accident 'Plausible'

© CDCThis illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). - Sputnik International, 1920, 19.09.2021
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A February 2020 Lancet letter dismissed the lab leak hypothesis as a conspiracy theory, claiming scientists “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife” and denounced "misinformation" over its origins.
Peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet has published a letter signed by 16 virologists, biologists and biosecurity specialists calling for an “objective, open and transparent debate” on the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The authors of the letter argue that “direct evidence for a natural origin for SARS-CoV-2 is missing”.
“The fact that the causative agent of COVID-19 descends from a natural virus is widely accepted, but this does not explain how it came to infect humans,” state the signatories to the letter published on Friday.
Scientists are urged to “evaluate all hypotheses on a rational basis, and to weigh their likelihood based on facts and evidence, devoid of speculation concerning possible political impacts”.
The letter makes reference to the Joint World Health Organisation (WHO) - China Study on the origins of Covid-19, which concluded that transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal was the most likely scenario and that a lab leak is “extremely unlikely.” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the time declared that “all hypotheses remained on the table including that of a laboratory leak”, emphasised the letter in The Lancet.
© AFP 2021 / STRLaboratory technicians wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) work on samples to be tested for the Covid-19 coronavirus at the Fire Eye laboratory, a Covid-19 testing facility, in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province early on August 5, 2021
Laboratory technicians wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) work on samples to be tested for the Covid-19 coronavirus at the Fire Eye laboratory, a Covid-19 testing facility, in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province early on August 5, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 19.09.2021
Laboratory technicians wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) work on samples to be tested for the Covid-19 coronavirus at the Fire Eye laboratory, a Covid-19 testing facility, in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province early on August 5, 2021
While conceding that “overwhelming evidence for either a zoonotic or research-related origin is lacking,” the article underscores that “the jury is still out” on the matter and, accordingly, a lab origin remains “plausible”. The new article weighed in on the letter, signed by 27 leading public health experts and published in The Lancet in February 2020, which had slammed the Wuhan lab leak hypothesis as a manifestation of conspiracy theories that “do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice.” The virus was first formally reported in Wuhan in late 2019.
The February statement had also extolled efforts of Chinese scientists who “worked diligently and effectively to rapidly identify the pathogen behind this outbreak… and share their results transparently with the global health community.”
© REUTERS / THOMAS PETERSecurity personnel keep watch outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 3, 2021.
Security personnel keep watch outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 3, 2021.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 19.09.2021
Security personnel keep watch outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 3, 2021.
Now, the letter published on September 17 urged scientists to “embrace alternative hypotheses, contradictory arguments, verification, refutability, and controversy”. The authors of the article wrote:
“The world will remain mired in dispute without the full engagement of China, including open access to primary data, documents, and relevant stored material to enable a thorough, transparent and objective search for all relevant evidence.”
The article in The Lancet deplored the labelling of debate on rivalling theories as “misinformation”.
“Research-related hypotheses are not misinformation or conjecture. Scientific journals should open their columns to in-depth analyses of all hypotheses,” urged the article.
Professor Nikolai Petrovsky of Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia - one of the signatories to the letter in The Lancet – was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying:
“It might seem small, but after 18 months of complete denial, the very act of [The] Lancet agreeing to publish this letter acknowledging the origins of Covid-19 remains an open verdict, is a very big deal.”

‘Inconclusive Probe’

The Lancet found itself under fire earlier in the year when the medical journal was accused of failing to acknowledge “conflict of interest”. At the time, one of the world's oldest and best-known general medical journals stopped short of declaring British zoologist Peter Daszak’s work with the Wuhan Institute of Virology when it published its February 2020 letter condemning the Wuhan lab leak hypothesis as a “conspiracy theory”.
Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance has funnelled millions of dollars in US National Institutes of Health funding into the Wuhan lab, with some $3.74 million spent on dangerous bat coronaviruses, in circumstances where such research was prohibited in the United States, revealed US media and congressional investigators earlier in the year.
Amid an ongoing exchange of rhetoric between the US and China over the origins of the novel coronavirus, a US intelligence report delivered to the White House in late August was inconclusive on the origins of Covid-19. According to the report, ordered by President Joe Biden on May 26, the intelligence community remained split on whether it leaked from a lab or developed in nature, while conclusively determining that it was not developed as a biological weapon.
© REUTERS / CHINA DAILYA medical worker in protective suit tests nucleic acid samples at a laboratory of Northern Jiangsu People's Hospital, following new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, China August 4, 2021
A medical worker in protective suit tests nucleic acid samples at a laboratory of Northern Jiangsu People's Hospital, following new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, China August 4, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 19.09.2021
A medical worker in protective suit tests nucleic acid samples at a laboratory of Northern Jiangsu People's Hospital, following new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, China August 4, 2021
Beijing has dismissed all allegations that its Wuhan Institute of Virology was responsible for the global pandemic and accused the US of playing a political game, seeking to shift the blame onto China.
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