One problem with the laboratory leak theory is that it assumes that the Chinese are lying or withholding facts, a position incompatible with a joint scientific effort. Perhaps this is the reason why the WHO team, for example, never asked to see the database offline. Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance, which has collaborated with the Wuhan lab for many years and funded some of its work, says there is “no evidence” whatsoever to support the theory of laboratory. “If you firmly believe [that] what we hear from our Chinese colleagues there in the labs will not be true, we can never rule it out, ”he said of the lab theory. “That’s the problem. In its essence, this theory is not a conspiracy theory. But people have presented it as such, claiming that the Chinese side conspired to cover up evidence.
For those who think a lab accident is likely, including Jamie Metzl, a technology and national security researcher at the Atlantic Council, the WHO team is not set up to lead the genre. forensic investigation that it deems necessary. “Everyone on earth is involved,” he says. “It’s crazy that a year after that there isn’t a full investigation into the origins of the pandemic.” In February, Metzl published a declaration in which he said he was “appalled” by investigators’ quick refutation of the lab’s hypothesis and demanded that Daszak be removed from the team. Several days later, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appeared to reprimand the origins team in a speech in which he said: “I want to clarify that all hypotheses remain open and require further study. thorough. “
The scenario that the WHO-China team considers the most likely is the “middle ground” theory, in which a bat virus infected another wild animal which was then captured or bred for food. The intermediate theory has the strongest precedents. Not only is the SARS case, but in 2012, researchers discovered Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a fatal lung infection caused by another coronavirus, and quickly traced it to camels.
The problem with this hypothesis is that Chinese researchers failed to find a “direct progenitor” of this virus in the animals they examined. Liang said China has tested 50,000 animal specimens, including 1,100 bats in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located. But no luck: a corresponding virus has still not been found.
The Chinese team seems strongly in favor of a twist on the idea of the intermediate animal: the virus could have reached Wuhan on a shipment of frozen food that included a frozen wild animal. This “cold chain” hypothesis may be interesting because it would mean that the virus would come from thousands of kilometers away, even outside of China. “We think this is a valid option,” says Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist who traveled with the group. She said China had tested 1.5 million frozen samples and found the virus 30 times. “This is perhaps not surprising in the midst of an epidemic, when many people are handling these products,” says Koopmans. “But the WHO ordered studies, injected the virus into the fish, froze and thawed it and was able to grow the virus. So it is possible. You can’t rule it out. “
The WHO-China team, in their final report, is expected to suggest further research. This is one of the reasons the report is important; it can determine which questions are asked and which are not.
There will likely be a greater effort to trace the wildlife trade, including frozen food supply chains. In addition to animal evidence, Ben Embarek also said China should do more to locate people infected with covid-19 early on, but who may have been asymptomatic or have not been tested. This could be done by looking for samples in blood banks, using newer and more sensitive technology to locate antibodies. “We have to keep looking for material that could give insight into the early days of events,” said Ben Embarek. Additionally, the report will likely require the creation of a master database that includes all of the data collected so far.
Ultimately, in looking for the cause of the Covid-19 disaster, we don’t just want to know what happened. We’re also looking for something – or someone – to blame. And each hypothesis points to a different culprit. For environmentalists, the lesson of the pandemic has almost been learned: humans should stop encroaching on wilderness areas. “We have come to recognize that this type of investigation is not just about disease in humans – or even the interface between humans and animals – but fuels a larger discussion about how we use the world. Says John Watson, British Epidemiologist.
The Chinese authorities, for their part, are already acting on the theory of the intermediary by empowering breeders and traders of wild animals. Last February, according to NPRThe Chinese legislature has started to take action to “root out the pernicious habit of eating wild animals.” At the request of President Xi Jinping, they have already banned the hunting, trade and consumption of large numbers of “terrestrial wild animals”, a step that was never fully implemented after the initial SARS outbreak. According to a report in Nature, the Chinese government has already closed 12,000 businesses, purged a million websites with information on the wildlife trade, and banned the breeding of rats and bamboo civets, among other species.
Then there is the chance that the covid-19 is the result of a lab accident. If this is true, it would have the most serious consequences, especially for scientists like those tasked with finding the origin of the virus. If the pandemic was caused by ambitious, high-tech research into dangerous germs, it would mean that China’s rapid rise as a biotech power is a threat to the world. This would mean that this type of science should be severely restricted, if not banned, in China and everywhere else. More than any other hypothesis, a mad government-sponsored tech program – along with early efforts to cover up news of the outbreak – would be an argument for retribution. “If this is a man-made disaster,” says Miles Yu, an analyst at the conservative Hudson Institute, “I think the world should seek redress.”
According to some former virus hunters, what is actually in the WHO-China origins report may be different from what we have heard so far. Schnur says the Chinese probably already know a lot more than we realize, so the role of the team might be to find ways to bring these facts to light. It’s a process he calls “both diplomacy and epidemiology”. He believes China’s investigation has probably been very thorough, and foreign visitors may also have stronger opinions than they have left so far.
As he points out, “What you say at a press conference may be different from what you put in a report after you leave the country.”