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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

COVID-19 pandemic more likely than not, the result of a research-related incident: Senate Committee HELP Committee Republicans

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A 35-page Interim Report released earlier this week concludes that the epidemiology of the early pandemic starkly differs from how other airborne epidemics first emerged in humans and spread.

An analysis of public information by the Republican staff of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic was “more likely than not a research-related incident.”

According to the new report, the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have emerged in Wuhan, China, without a trace.

The report states, “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.”

The new report asks why SARS-CoV-2 left behind so few clues in its wake before emerging in humans, and whether those clues might in fact be found in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“The available evidence appears to be inconsistent with both historic precedent and the scientific understanding of how natural zoonotic spillovers of respiratory viruses like SARS-CoV-2 occur,” the report states.

The report states, “Based on the analysis of the publicly available information, it appears reasonable to conclude that the COVID-19 pandemic was, more likely than not, the result of a research-related incident. New information, made publicly available and independently verifiable, could change this assessment. However, the hypothesis of a natural zoonotic origin no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt or the presumption of accuracy. The following are critical outstanding questions that would need to be addressed to be able to more definitively conclude the origins of SARS-CoV-2:

  • What is the intermediate host species for SARS-CoV-2? Where did it first infect humans?
  • Where is SARS-CoV-2’s viral reservoir?
  • How did SARS-CoV-2 acquire its unique genetic features, such as its furin cleavage site?

Advocates of a zoonotic origin theory must provide clear and convincing evidence that a natural zoonotic spillover is the source of the pandemic, as was demonstrated for the 2002-2004 SARS outbreak. 

In other words, there needs to be verifiable evidence that a natural zoonotic spillover actually occurred, not simply that such a spillover could have occurred.

The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 represents “a significant break from the precedent of other zoonotic spillovers involving respiratory viruses, such as MERS and SARS,” the report further states.

The closest cousin viruses to SARS-CoV-2 were discovered in rural Southeast Asia and Yunnan Province, yet SARS-CoV-2 appears to have arrived in the metropolis of Wuhan, China, without leaving an obvious trail in wildlife or in the rural populations along the way.

The report stresses the point that the absence of evidence along the hundreds of miles that separate southern China and Wuhan stands in stark contrast to the evidence that early SARS cases left behind in 2002.

Virologists consider it unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 became human-adapted in bats because of key differences in our immune systems (though the report concedes it is possible.)

Yet nearly three years after SARS-CoV-2 first emerged, an “intermediate host” — a reservoir of other mammals in which the virus could have evolved the changes it needed to infect and spread among humans — has not been identified.

By contrast, Chinese authorities had identified SARS infections in palm civets and raccoon dogs within six months of the first human case of SARS, the report points out. This animal reservoir continued to cause infections. Yet with SARS-CoV-2, it has not been shown that infected animals continued to drive infections outside the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan.

Senate HELP Report

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