A new report from Republicans on the Senate HELP Committee concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic “most likely” originated via a lab accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The 35-page report from the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) states that the pandemic likely originated with a “research-related incident” because the epidemiology of the early days of the outbreak do not match other similar pandemics in history, and the virus left little footprint in nature before it began rapidly spreading in humans. The natural origin theory of COVID-19’s emergence, according to the report, “no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt.”
Scientists have engaged in intense debate since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic about whether it has a “zoonotic” origin or was the result of a lab leak. Natural origin proponents claim there is a lack of evidence of a lab leak and that the most likely story is that the virus spilled over from an animal to humans as with many pandemics in the past.
One red flag highlighted in the new report is that the virus would have to have only spilled over from animals to humans in Wuhan, and nowhere else, if the zoonotic origin theory is accurate. That is out of step with most similar outbreaks of MERS, SARS and influenza in history.
Lab leak likely says report. But:
“This conclusion is not intended to be dispositive. The lack of transparency from government and public health officials in the PRC with respect to the origins of SARS-CoV-2 prevents reaching a more definitive conclusion.”https://t.co/fMFuQA2unL
— Matt Ridley (@mattwridley) October 28, 2022
The report also notes the close proximity of the Wuhan Institute of Virology to the epicenter of the pandemic, and highlights various safety and security concerns flagged at the lab over the years leading up to the outbreak. “While it is likely that SARS-CoV-2 originated from a bat virus, most likely one found in horseshoe bats … in Southern China or Southeast Asia, it remains unknown how SARS-CoV-2 traveled more than 1,000 miles … before emerging in Wuhan,” the report states.
The low genetic diversity of early COVID-19 strains is another indicator of a lab-developed virus. During natural spillover events, there is typically more genetic diversity as the virus spills over multiple times from different animals to different humans. That did not happen with COVID-19, based on currently available evidence.
There are a number of factors that could lead to a lab-leak, the report says. Human errors, mechanical failure, animal bites, animal escapes, inadequate training, insufficient funding and pressure for results are all potential reasons a failure to contain a virus in a lab could happen.
Ultimately, the fact that the virus appeared roughly 1,000 miles away from where horseshoe bats congregate and just down the road from a lab doing dangerous research on coronaviruses in bats is the closest evidence to a smoking gun presented in the report. (RELATED: Scientist Who Blasted Lab-Leak ‘Conspiracy’ Theory Funded Wuhan Lab Research, Didn’t Disclose)
The report also outlines efforts made by the Chinese government to suppress inquiries into the true origins of COVID-19. “The lack of transparency and collaboration from government and public health officials in the People’s Republic of China with respect to the origins of SARS-CoV-2 prevents reaching a more definitive conclusion,” it states. The report goes on to highlight that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has banned any sharing of information about the virus without government approval since early 2020.
Questions about Chinese vaccine development also feature prominently in the report. The authors ask how CCP-affiliated researchers were able to develop multiple successful vaccines so quickly — before even the U.S.-based Operation Warp Speed — if they didn’t have access to the genetic sequence of the virus before it became public.
Without CCP cooperation, it may be impossible to ever definitely find out where COVID-19 came from, the report points out. Similar reports from congressional Republicans and some independent researchers have come to the same conclusion — that COVID-19 likely emerged from a lab accident — while others have proven inconclusive or support a zoonotic origin.