Coronavirus came from 'wildlife', wasn't 'genetically engineered' in Wuhan safety lab, say scientists

The rapid and open sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumors and misinformation around its origins, said 27 scientists from 9 countries in a joint statement


                            Coronavirus came from 'wildlife', wasn't 'genetically engineered' in Wuhan safety lab, say scientists
(Fan Peishen/Xinhua via AP)

A group of prominent public health scientists from outside China has slammed conspiracy theories on how the deadly virus COVID-19 may have been bio-engineered in Wuhan lab. 

“The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumors and misinformation around its origins. We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” says the group in a statement published in The Lancet. 

The current statement has been signed by 27 scientists from nine countries, including the US, Spain, Germany, UK, Australia, Netherlands, Malaysia, Italy, and Hong Kong.

“Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumors, and prejudice that jeopardize our global collaboration in the fight against this virus. We support the call from the Director-General of WHO to promote scientific evidence and unity over misinformation and conjecture.  We want you, the science and health professionals of China, to know that we stand with you in your fight against this virus,” they write

A medical staff member works near COVID-19 patients recuperating in a temporary hospital converted from an exhibition center in Wuhan. (Chinatopix via AP)

What are these theories?

A recent study by researchers from universities in China had raised the question as to whether the new coronavirus originated in the Wuhan lab. 

In their findings, the team -- from the South China University of Technology, China; Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan and Wuhan University of Science and Technology, Wuhan -- had concluded that “in addition to origins of natural recombination and intermediate host, the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.”

Fuelling the rumors, US Senator Tom Cotton, in an interview with Fox News had raised the possibility that the virus had originated in the high-security biochemical lab in Wuhan, the city where the new coronavirus first appeared. 

“This virus did not originate in the Wuhan animal market. Epidemiologists, who are widely respected from China, have demonstrated that several of the original cases did not have any contact with the food market. The virus went into that food market before it came out of that food market. So we don’t know where it originated. But we do know that we have to get to the bottom of that,” he told Fox News.

He said, “We also know that just a few miles away from that food market is China’s only Biosafety Level-4 super laboratory that researches human infectious diseases. Now, we don’t have evidence that this disease originated there. But because of China’s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says. And China right now is not giving any evidence on that question at all.”

During the early days of the outbreak, China had said that the virus may have emerged from  Wuhan's Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market where a variety of animals, including civet cats, snakes, dogs, peacocks, otters, camels, and koalas were being sold. With the seafood market as the narrowed target, scientists began looking for animals that may have been the culprit. 

A study published in The Lancet said that bats could be the likely source, but other animals may have helped transfer disease to humans. Scientists are currently trying to figure out how the Wuhan coronavirus jumped from animals to humans, and from which animal.

Coronavirus originated in wildlife, say experts

In the current statement, the experts write that scientists from multiple countries have published and analyzed genomes of the causative agent behind COVID-19, and they “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife,” as have so many other emerging pathogens. 

This is further supported by a letter from the presidents of the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, and by the scientific communities they represent, the experts emphasize.

COVID-19 patients recuperate in a temporary hospital in Wuhan. (Chinatopix via AP)

Lauding the “remarkable effort” by public health experts in China, the statement says, “We are public health scientists who have closely followed the emergence of 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and are deeply concerned about its impact on global health and well-being. We have watched as the scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of China, in particular, have worked diligently and effectively to rapidly identify the pathogen behind this outbreak, put in place significant measures to reduce its impact, and share their results transparently with the global health community.”

They add, “We sign this statement in solidarity with all scientists and health professionals in China who continue to save lives and protect global health during the challenge of the COVID-19 outbreak. We are all in this together, with our Chinese counterparts in the forefront, against this new viral threat.”

The group of experts has also invited others to join them in supporting the scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of Wuhan and across China. 

Before this statement, Dr. Trevor Bedford, an infectious-disease expert at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, had said that the novel coronavirus could not have been genetically engineered in a lab.

“If you look for evidence of genetic engineering, you can find none whatsoever. It is completely consistent with natural evolution,” said Dr. Trevor Bedford at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on February 13.

Conspiracy theories hurting efforts to curb virus - Wuhan Lab

The Wuhan Institute of Virology—released a statement saying that internet rumors have caused great harm to the research staff on the front line of scientific research. 

The institute runs the lab -- the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory (Level 4) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It works with and studies the world’s most dangerous pathogens such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and Ebola. It is the only lab in China that is equipped to study and deal with such deadly and emerging infectious diseases.

“The rumors… have caused severe damage to our researchers who have been dedicated to working on the front line, and seriously interrupted the emergency research we are doing during the epidemic,” reads the statement according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

According to SCMP, the statement said that those rumors included that the new virus strain was “man-made”, “leaked from the WIV lab”, that “the WIV was taken over by the military”, “a WIV researcher died from the leaked virus”, “a WIV student is patient zero”, and “a WIV researcher reported to authorities that the WIV chief was responsible” for the epidemic.

Disclaimer : This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.