Natural contagion or escape from the laboratory? The controversy on the origin of Covid-19 reopens

Natural contagion or escape from the laboratory? The controversy on the origin of Covid-19 reopens

An American intelligence report would reveal that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized in November 2019 with symptoms compatible with Covid 19. A news, denied by the Chinese authorities, which reopens the exchange of accusations on the origin of the pandemic

(photo: Hector Retamal / Afp via Getty Images) The exchange of accusations between China and the West on the origin of Sars-Cov-2 is raging again. An American intelligence report, viewed by reporters from the Wall Street Journal, reveals that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology would have been admitted to a hospital in the city in November 2019 (a month before the first official case of Covid-19) , due to symptoms compatible with seasonal flu, and therefore, obviously, also with a Sars-Cov-2 infection. An eventuality denied by the Chinese government, but obviously destined to rekindle the controversy (in reality never subsided) on the origin of the pandemic that has been bringing the planet to its knees for two years. a battle that has raged since the very first weeks of the epidemic, when the then American President Donald Trump decided to marry the cause of the virus escaped from the Wuhan virology laboratory, located a few hundred meters from the market initially considered as the epicenter of the first outbreak of the disease. A thesis with obvious geopolitical implications, to which China has always opposed the possibility that the virus has arrived in the country from abroad, perhaps preserved in frozen fish imported from Europe or the United States.

Despite a scientific community, at least initially, compact in supporting a natural origin of the epidemic (a contagion from animal to human that occurred at an unspecified time and place), the controversies continued for months, pushing WHO to send a shipment to investigate the matter on the ground. The investigations, which lasted four weeks, ended in February with a press conference, judged by many to be too sensitive to Chinese positions, in which WHO experts said they considered the laboratory error as "unlikely" as a source. of the origin of the epidemic, judging on the other hand "possible" the arrival of the virus from abroad inside frozen food, and "extremely probable" the spillover from an intermediate host (the famous pangolin) to humans (opinions later confirmed in the official report).

The World Health Organization itself did not appear particularly satisfied with the conclusions, with the organization's director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who accepted the experts' report, publicly specifying that all hypotheses on the origin of the virus are still on the table. A few weeks, and even the apparent unanimity of the scientific community has begun to crack: in a letter published in Science 19 international experts have decided to urgently request new investigations into the origin of the virus, considering the evidence accumulated to date to be insufficient, and defining the solution of the enigma as crucial, both to be prepared in the event of future pandemics, and to dispel doubts that inevitably lend themselves to the most bizarre conspiracy theories.

If hardly any scientist considers an act plausible indeed. premeditated at the origin of the pandemic, the possibility that a human error may have caused the pathogen to escape from the Wuhan laboratory, dedicated to the cataloging and study of coronaviruses in bats, is now considered more or less universally impossible to exclude without conducting further research, and without greater cooperation from the Chinese authorities. Antony Fauci himself, answering a question during an online event, has now said that he is completely in favor of further investigating the matter. When asked about his beliefs about the natural origin of the virus, he replied: "In reality I am not convinced, I think we should continue to investigate what has happened in China [...] Certainly the people who have carried out the investigations so far argue that emerged from an animal reservoir from which the virus then infected humans, but it could also have gone differently, and it's a matter we absolutely need to clear up. This is why I am in favor of an investigation ".

The question cannot therefore be said to be closed, and it is certainly destined to hold ground for the next few months, also in the wake of a network of not entirely transparent relations between American research world and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has been emerging in recent weeks. A case that revolves around the figure of Peter Daszak, President of the NGO EcoHealth Alliance, who in recent years would have raised millions of dollars in funding from the American National Intitute of Health, to carry out research on bat coronaviruses in collaboration with the Wuhan institute of Virology. Despite the close ties with the institute, Daszak was among the authors of the very first scientific position, published in the Lancet in February 2020, in favor of the natural origin of the virus, but forgetting to disclose its conflict of interest. A repeated forgetfulness even when he was chosen by the WHO to participate in field investigations on the origin of the virus, and which now does nothing but cast further doubts on the reliability of the World Health Organization report.

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