Lancet Task Force Probing COVID Origins Disbanded 'in Favour of Wider Biosafety Research'
© AP Photo / Mark SchiefelbeinA visitor wearing a face mask takes a photo of a model of a coronavirus and boxes for COVID-19 vaccines at a display by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinopharm at the China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) in Beijing, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. With the COVID-19 pandemic largely under control, China's capital on Saturday kicked off one of the first large-scale public events since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, as tens of thousands of attendees were expected to visit displays from nearly 2,000 Chinese and foreign companies showcasing their products and services.
© AP Photo / Mark Schiefelbein
Earlier in September, medical journal The Lancet published a letter signed by more than a dozen virologists calling for an “objective, open and transparent debate” on the origins of the coronavirus outbreak, with the authors arguing there is no evidence of a natural origin.
Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs has announced the closure of a task force affiliated with the Lancet medical journal that was investigating the origins of COVID-19, The Wall Street Journal reported.
According to Sachs, chairman of The Lancet COVID-19 commission, it was done in order to favour a "wider biosafety research". He told the WSJ that studies into the origins of the novel coronavirus are to be continued, but the scope will be broadened so that other biosafety experts in concerns including government oversight and transparency could make their input.
A report about their findings is expected to be released in mid-2022.
Per the WSJ, Sachs closed the commission over concerns about its links to EcoHealth Alliance, an organisation led by Peter Daszak, a leader of the task force probing the origins of COVID-19. The organisation reportedly used US funds for studies on bat coronaviruses carried out in cooperation with the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Daszak led the task force until stepping down in June, and other members were said to have collaborated with him or EcoHealth Alliance on projects.
The Lancet commission has not released any official statement after the report.
Earlier in September, The Lancet published a letter from 16 virologists claiming that there was no direct evidence of the natural origin of COVID. The publication came after the journal dismissed the lab leak theories as conspiracies, saying that scientists “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife”.
The origin of coronavirus remains a highly sensitive issue for some in the United States, with debates still unfolding over whether the viral disease emerged naturally or was a result of some kind of laboratory incident.
Officials of the former Trump administration have repeatedly alleged that China could have concealed the true origin of the virus, entertaining the idea that it escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and demanding an investigation. Beijing dismissed the claims, wondering why would the US call for probing the Chinese labs instead of allowing investigators into Fort Detrick - an American military base in Maryland which, according to some allegations, could have also produced the novel coronavirus.
Several pieces of research, including those made with the involvement of the World Health Organisation, have determined that COVID-19 most likely originated naturally. In late August, US released an intelligence report on the novel coronavirus, which said that the virus was not developed as a biological weapon. The American intelligence community remains divided over the exact origins of COVID-19.