A small group of scientists and others who believe the novel coronavirus that started the pandemic could be due to a laboratory leak or accident are calling for an investigation, independent of the World Health Organization’s team of independent experts, released last month Were sent to China.

While many scientists involved in researching the origins of the virus continue to claim that the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic almost certainly began with a leap from bats to intermediate animals to humans, other theories persist and have persisted WHO gains new visibility Visit of a team of experts in China. WHO officials have said in recent interviews that it was “extremely unlikely” but not impossible that the virus’s spread was related to a laboratory accident.

The open letter, first published in the Wall Street Journal and the French publication Le Monde, lists what the signatories see as flaws in the joint investigation between WHO and China and indicates the possibility that the virus left a laboratory could not be adequately addressed. The letter also sets out the type of investigation that would be appropriate, including full access to records within China.

The WHO mission, like everything related to China and the coronavirus, was political from the start, as recognized by the members of the international team.

Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University and one of the scientists who signed the letter, said it emerged from a series of online discussions among scientists, policy experts and others informally known as the Paris Group. Many of those who signed the letter were based in France, and Dr. Ebright, who was openly spoken about the need to investigate a possible laboratory leak, said such discussion had been less heated in the United States.

He said no one in the group thought the virus was deliberately created as a weapon, but they were all convinced that originating in a laboratory through research or accidental infection was just as likely as overflowing in nature from animals on people.

Dr. Ebright said the letter was released because the Paris group expected to receive an interim report from WHO on Thursday. The letter, he added, “was communicated to high levels of WHO on Tuesday.”

Asked to respond to the letter, Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for WHO, replied in an email that the team of experts that had traveled to China are working on his full report, as well as an accompanying summary report, which we understand will be issued simultaneously in a couple of weeks. “

The open letter indicated that the WHO study was a joint effort by a team of external experts selected by the global health organization and worked with Chinese scientists, and that the team’s report must be agreed upon by all. The letter stressed that the team had been denied access to some records and no laboratories in China were examined.


March 4, 2021, 11:13 p.m. ET

The team’s letter stated: “While this may be of limited use, it does not represent the official position of the WHO or the result of an unqualified, independent investigation.”

Without naming him, the letter criticized Peter Daszak, an expert on animal diseases and their links to human health, the head of EcoHealth International. In the letter that began with articles about Dr. Daszak was said to have previously expressed his belief that the virus was most likely to have a natural origin.

Dr. Daszak said the letter’s urge to investigate a laboratory origin for the virus was a position “supported by political agendas”.

“I urge the world community to wait for the WHO mission report to be published,” he added.

Filippa Lentzos, Lecturer in Science and International Security at King’s College London and one of the signatories to the letter, said: “I think to get a credible investigation, it has to be more of a global effort in the EU to feel that there is UN General Assembly should be brought where all the nations of the world are represented and can vote on whether or not to mandate the UN Secretary General to conduct this type of investigation. “

Dr. David A. Relman, a professor of medicine and microbiology at Stanford University and a member of the intelligence agency study committee at the National Academies of Science, Technology, and Medicine, an advisory body to the federal government, said he was “very supportive” of the open letter.

“From what we know so far, I fully agree that the WHO investigation appears biased, biased and inadequate,” he said in an email. “Above all, without full transparency and access to the primary data and records, we cannot understand the basis of the comments that have been made on behalf of the investigation or by the WHO.”

At the same time, scientists working on coronavirus continue to discover evidence to support the virus’ natural development and overflow in animals.

Robert F. Garry, a virologist at Tulane University Medical Center, recently posted a report on the Virological website that has not yet been peer-reviewed, describing new evidence that aspects of the virus that initially appeared unusual can be found in new viruses Japan, Thailand and Cambodia were found. He and his co-authors concluded, “These observations are consistent with the natural origin of SARS-CoV-2 and strongly disagree with laboratory origin.”

He said he was familiar with some of the views of the letter signers expressed in previous media appearances or on social media, including speculation about how the virus might have come from laboratory work, and that none of these views appeared in the letter.

Dr. Garry said the possible scenarios outlined in the letter are: “The Wuhan Institute of Biology either had SARS-CoV-2 or something very close before the outbreak. And for some reason, some major conspiracy, they just didn’t want to tell anyone about it. “

He said he continues to believe that laboratory origin is “next to impossible”. He said, “We have to look into animals.”

That seems to be at the center of the Paris Group’s concern about the nature of future research. Dr. Ebright said everyone in the group was concerned that both wildlife surveillance and laboratory research on viruses could potentially increase without reducing the likelihood of future pandemics.

If either collecting samples in the wild or working with these samples in laboratories were linked to the origin of the pandemic, there is an urgent need to “assess whether the benefits outweigh the risks and not to limit these activities”.

William J. Broad contributed to the coverage.