Even the latest report on the origin of the coronavirus says nothing new

Even the latest report on the origin of the coronavirus says nothing new

The new US intelligence report has been made public: the path of the spillover is strengthened, that of the biological weapon discarded. But field investigations are becoming increasingly difficult

(photo: Stringer via Getty Images) On August 24, US intelligence officials handed President Joe Biden a report containing the results of the investigation aimed at searching to discover the truth about the origin of the coronavirus. As we told you, and as was recently reiterated in an editorial published in the journal Nature, the research on the origin of the coronavirus has entered a stalemate and risks ending in nothing.

The World Health Organization (WHO) task force sent to China between January and February 2021 to look for the first traces of SARS-CoV-2 stressed that blood tests on workers and wildlife breeders in China would be needed, but many farms and businesses are already closed and the animals have already been culled, so potential clues to the matter have been erased forever. And the results of the US survey, partially made public a few days ago, add not much more.

The few confirmations

"After looking at all the reports and other information - yes reads in the report - the National intelligence Council remains divided on the most likely origin of Covid-19. All the agencies think that both hypotheses, that of natural human exposure to an infected animal and that of a laboratory accident, are plausible ".

In short, a stalemate. Or almost: the only element that emerges with moderate certainty from the report is that the hypothesis that Sars-CoV-2 was created at the table with the aim of developing a biological weapon is extremely unlikely. "We believe that the virus was not developed as a biological weapon - write the authors -. Most agencies believe (with a low degree of confidence) that the virus is very unlikely to have been genetically modified, and two agencies believe that there is not enough evidence to say otherwise. ”

And more , reads: "We believe that Chinese officials were unaware of the virus before the outbreak of the initial Covid-19 outbreak." Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University and consultant to the CIA and FBI in the investigation, tells Nature that he is still satisfied with the results of the investigation: "It is not easy to rule out that the virus is not the product of a bioengineering operation". And he adds that he is not surprised that intelligence still has not been able to solve the mystery of the origins of the coronavirus, since investigations of this type are very complex.

The many doubts

Unfortunately, at the moment it is very unlikely that new evidence will emerge that would allow a definitive answer to the question. As Science says, China remains the best place to look for clues, but "its initial openness to collaboration, during joint missions, seems to have vanished". Recently, Chinese officials ignored requests from Biden and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, to obtain an independent audit of the main laboratories in Wuhan, which would also include an analysis of laboratory records, computers and freezers. China's Deputy Health Minister, Zeng Yixin, said such investigations would imply a "disrespect for common sense and arrogance towards science."

In any case, despite this stalemate and conclusions of the latter report, the evidence gathered so far (including early epidemiological models, the genomic composition of Sars-CoV-2 and a recently published scientific article on the topic of Wuhan live animal markets) suggests, according to many experts , that the hypothesis of a spillover is still the most probable.

Garry himself admits it to Science: “It seems unlikely that a Wuhan laboratory employee contracted the virus from a bat and brought to the city, giving rise to the pandemic. From the other known spillovers we know, however, that it is much more likely that the virus jumped from bats to an intermediate species and finally to one or more humans: it is a very common scenario, which becomes much more plausible if we take into account that there there are hundreds of millions of people who live in close contact with wildlife ”. In short, the search for patient zero is increasingly difficult. If not impossible.

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