A year and a half after the first cases in Wuhan, the origins of COVID-19 are still unknown.
But despite the WHO’s investigation into the origins of the pandemic earlier this year, experts don’t seem closer to a definitive answer.
What is lab leak theory?
The laboratory leak theory is that the coronavirus may have accidentally escaped from the lab instead of naturally jumping from an animal – most likely a bat – to humans.
Those who support the idea believe it happened on Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), where scientists have been studying bat-borne viruses since the outbreak of SARS-CoV-1 in 2002, which killed 774 people worldwide.
Inside the lab, researchers are experimenting with live viruses in animals to decipher how susceptible humans are to them.
All employees wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and there are strict protocols to avoid pathogen escape.
But some people believe that a fundamental human error could have caused the coronavirus to escape.
WIV is located just a few miles from the Huanan wet market, where the first cases were detected, so they think it could have spread there.
Most people who subscribe to the lab leak theory believe it was an accident – not intentionally caused by China as some conspiracy theorists claim.
What do we know so far?
The World Health Organization ordered an investigation into the origins of the pandemic shortly after the virus began spreading more widely in March 2020.
A team of WHO scientists was supposed to travel to Wuhan but was banned by Chinese authorities.
they Finally arrived in January 2021 A year after the outbreak.
they Final report in March He concluded that it is “very likely” that the Coronavirus may have jumped from a bat to a human via an unknown animal species.
They determined that the virus had escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan was “extremely unlikely”, but was not completely ruled out.
Experts have completely denied the idea that the virus has been genetically modified by humans.
During their 12-day visit, which saw them accompanied by Chinese officials everywhere they went, scientists found records of badgers, porcupines, snakes, salamanders and crocodiles sold in the wet Huanan Market.
But they were unable to determine how the first cases appeared there.
The report said, “It is not currently possible to reach a firm conclusion on the role of the Huanan market in the origin of the outbreak, or how the infection was introduced to the market.”
Why is it taken so seriously?
For months, the idea of a lab leak behind the pandemic has been considered a fringe theory or conspiracy.
But in the wake of the WHO’s 2021 report, some scientists criticized the health authority for not taking it seriously enough.
24 researchers sent a letter to the World Health Organization saying that the probe was not comprehensive and that the laboratory leak scenario needed to be reconsidered.
This week, a classified US intelligence report was also leaked to the media, suggesting that three WIV researchers had to go to hospital with coronavirus-like symptoms in November 2019 – a month before the first cases were reported.
The report gave new weight to the laboratory controversy over the leak with the US President Joe Biden He then ordered US laboratories to launch a new investigation with a specific list of questions for the Chinese government.
“The United States will continue to work with like-minded partners around the world to pressure China to participate in a full, transparent, and evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence,” he said in a statement. Wednesday’s statement.
His press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the White House supported the new WHO investigation into China, but that this would “require China to finally step up and allow necessary access to identify the assets.”
“This possibility definitely exists, and I totally support a full investigation of whether that could happen,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the United States, of the laboratory leak theory on May 11.
Biden’s Republican opponents, including the former president Donald Trump, I have long supported the laboratory leak theory and advocated for closer consideration.
The current president says the majority of the US intelligence community has “huddled” around this scenario and the natural leap but “I don’t think there is enough information to assess one to be more likely than the other.”
Other countries have also long insisted that China may have withheld the origins of the pandemic and that a lab leak is a viable argument, although there is no evidence for this.
In response to Biden’s statement this week, China did The United States was accused of playing politics.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that shows that the United States “is not interested in facts and truth, nor is it interested in tracing serious scientific origin.”
He claimed that the United States “wanted to use the pandemic to engage in stigmatization and political manipulation and evade responsibility.”
“This is a lack of respect for science and irresponsible for people’s lives, as well as undermining the global unity of anti-epidemic efforts,” Zhao added.