How did the Covid pandemic start? We need to test all credible hypotheses. alison young

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TeaHis week’s revelation that a top US scientific agency has joined the FBI in leaning toward a lab accident in China as the most likely source of the Covid pandemic has once again brought to the fore the entangled politics that have fueled controversy since day one. The search for answers has been interrupted.

The new assessment is contained in a classified intelligence report, first disclosed by The Wall Street Journal and later confirmed by other media organizations. The largely stalled discovery of how the SARS-CoV-2 virus – first discovered in China’s Wuhan – made its initial leap to infect humans before spreading across the globe and killing millions A small, yet important development. ,

Also on Tuesday, the FBI director, Christopher Wray, publicly discussed the bureau’s longstanding view that the pandemic began with a lab accident.

“The FBI has long assessed that the origin of the pandemic is a possible laboratory incident in Wuhan,” Ray told Fox News. “Here you are talking about a possible leak from a laboratory controlled by the Chinese government.”

As the journal reports, the US Department of Energy — which runs a national network of laboratories, including some engaged in advanced biological research — recently changed its assessment from undecided to undecided about how the pandemic affected lab leakage to the most likely source. began to see as Of virus. The revised Department of Energy assessment was made with “low confidence” and is reportedly based on some new, as yet undisclosed, intelligence.

The news has reignited a heated public debate over the two prevailing hypotheses for the origin of Covid: whether the virus emerged in the usual way with a natural jump from an infected animal to a person, perhaps through wildlife and other live animal sellers; Wuhan in the market? Or a lab accident at a major coronavirus research lab in Wuhan – perhaps involving a worker who inadvertently became infected during an experiment or field work – sparking an initial outbreak in a city from which these types of coronaviruses originated. have been found historically. Wild Bats?

And it comes after a leading group of US and international researchers claimed for the past year that their study of early Covid cases linked to the Wuhan seafood market showed a natural zoonotic origin “the only plausible scenario” How the pandemic started and “the lab leak theory is dead”.

This week a high-profile scientist compared a Wall Street Journal report about the new Energy Department assessment to “spreading misinformation“, and he news organization criticized to write “That dreadful headline today when the virology community presents overwhelming evidence for a natural origin…”.

But the case is far from closed, as this week’s news shows.

While the four unnamed US intelligence organizations and the National Intelligence Council lean toward a natural origin for the pandemic – they also had “low confidence” in that assessment, according to a previously announced intelligence report.

Another intelligence organization, previously reported to be the FBI, assessed from 2021 “with moderate confidence” that the initial human infection was the result of an incident involving a laboratory, involving experiments and animal handling from field work. Activities up to sampling were included. Virus in the wild. Until recently, the Department of Energy was one of three government agencies involved in intelligence matters that were undecided on the question, or in some cases analysts viewed both hypotheses as “equally”.

While the three entities were not publicly identified in the declassified report, one of the entities that remains undecided is the Central Intelligence Agency, The Wall Street Journal reported. The other has not been identified.

Despite the differing views, the previously declassified report stated: “All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: a natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident.”

Since the start of the pandemic, the search for the virus’ origins has been distorted by politics on many fronts: from China’s ban on releasing scientific information and its refusal to cooperate with international investigations to former President Donald Trump’s “China virus”. ” As far as. and “kung flu” slurs for the baseless and continued branding of the lab-leak hypothesis as a fringe conspiracy theory by influential news organizations and high-profile scientists — including some with financial and research ties to the Wuhan lab at the center of the lab-leak hypothesis .

Meanwhile in Congress, investigations and hearings that could unearth information related to the origins of the pandemic — including those involving US funding agencies and academic scientific collaboration on potentially risky research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology — have been heavily contested by Organized in quantity. Republican, with less engagement than Democrat.

It was not always so. Concern about laboratory accidents, risky research and the proliferation of high-containment laboratories used to be a fully bipartisan issue, with Democrats and Republicans jointly attending hearings, as they did in 2014 on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s laboratories. I did after a serious anthrax incident. ,

In those days, many members of both political parties came together to jointly request a series of reports by the US Government Accountability Office, which warned of the increased risk of catastrophic accident from the worldwide proliferation of high-containment biological laboratories. Went. A 2009 GAO report lists both Democrat and Republican leaders of several congressional committees among the engaged requesters actively seeking answers about the security of biological research facilities.

All these years later, the bipartisanship caused by these early warnings has been lost in the current divisive politics of Washington.

Gerald Parker, a biosecurity expert at Texas A&M University who also serves as the president’s national science advisor, said, “We have a moral obligation to determine to the best of our ability how SARS-2 spread over more than 100 years.” Caused the worst epidemic.” Biosafety Board, said on twitter After the Department of Energy’s assessment came out this week. “It is inexplicable why Congress and the administration have not established a bipartisan commission to investigate Covid origins with forensic rigor.”

Amid growing news coverage of the new Energy Department assessment and the FBI director’s public comments, there were potential signs of a political shift among Democrats in Congress. The Wall Street Journal quoted Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as saying on Tuesday: “The bottom line is we have to get to the bottom of this… The Biden administration is committed to it. They’ve got all kinds of people looking at it, and we’ll wait to see their results.

As an investigative reporter, I’ve spent 15 years revealing shocking details about lab accidents for major news organizations and reports in my upcoming book, Pandora’s Gamble: Lab Leaks, Pandemics, and a World at Risk. What I’ve learned is that lax biosecurity practices are far more common than the public and policy makers realize. And history shows that when accidents happen, laboratories often go to great lengths to keep their mistakes a secret.

Chinese officials and top scientists at the Wuhan lab at the center of the controversy have long said they never had the Covid virus before the start of the outbreak. But the Chinese government has refused the WHO’s efforts to investigate the country’s laboratories or conduct an in-depth study of the data that shed light on how the pandemic began.

Ray said in his interview with Fox News this week that he believes the Chinese government is working to sabotage investigations by US government agencies and their foreign partners into how the pandemic began.

The bottom line is that no one yet knows how this pandemic started, and the public and press should scrutinize those who claim to have settled the matter in favor of either of these two credible theories. . Covid ravaged the world, killing millions and ravaging the lives of everyone on this planet – and it did so regardless of political persuasion.

The world needs less hot takes and soundbites, and more actions that critically examine all valid hypotheses – including the virus jumping from nature and the largely unconvincing possibility of laboratory accident origins.

All we need to know is how this pandemic started. Accessing the truth can help us avoid disaster in the future.

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