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Thu May 27, 2021, 11:39 PM

Divisive COVID 'lab leak' debate prompts dire warnings from researchers

From Nature news: Divisive COVID ‘lab leak’ debate prompts dire warnings from researchers

Subtitle: Allegations that COVID escaped from a Chinese lab make it harder for nations to collaborate on ending the pandemic — and fuel online bullying, some scientists say.

Amy Maxmen, Nature NEWS 27 May 2021

It's probably open sourced.

Some excerpts:

alls to investigate Chinese laboratories have reached a fever pitch in the United States, as Republican leaders allege that the coronavirus causing the pandemic was leaked from one, and as some scientists argue that this ‘lab leak’ hypothesis requires a thorough, independent inquiry. But for many researchers, the tone of the growing demands is unsettling. They say the volatility of the debate could thwart efforts to study the virus’s origins.

Global-health researchers also warn that the growing demands are exacerbating tensions between the United States and China ahead of crucial meetings at which world leaders will make high-level decisions about how to curb the pandemic and prepare for future health emergencies. At the World Health Assembly this week, for example, health officials from nearly 200 countries are discussing strategies including ways to ramp up vaccine manufacturing and to reform the World Health Organization (WHO). But a US–China divide will make consensus on these issues harder to reach, says David Fidler, a global-health researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank in Washington DC. “If there’s some turning down of the geopolitical heat between these two great powers, we could create some space to perhaps do some of the things that we need to do,” he says.

Others worry that the rhetoric around an alleged lab leak has grown so toxic that it’s fuelling online bullying of scientists and anti-Asian harassment in the United States, as well as offending researchers and authorities in China whose cooperation is needed.

Fever pitch

The debate over the lab-leak hypothesis has been rumbling since last year. But it has grown louder in the past month — even without strong supporting evidence. On 14 May, 18 researchers published a letter in Science1 arguing that the idea of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 leaking from a lab in China must be explored more deeply. It points out that the first phase of a COVID-19 origins investigation sponsored by the WHO, which released a report in March, focused more on the virus coming from an animal than on its potential escape from a lab. For example, the report mapped a large market in Wuhan, China, and stated that most samples of SARS-CoV-2 recovered there by investigators were found around stalls that sold animals. Many virologists say that this focus is warranted, because most emerging infectious diseases begin with a spillover from nature, as seen with HIV, Zika and Ebola. Genomic evidence also suggests that a virus similar to SARS-CoV-2 originated in horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus spp.), before spreading to an unknown animal that then passed the pathogen to people...

…Even if the letter in Science was well intentioned, its authors should have thought more about how it would feed into the divisive political environment surrounding this issue, says Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada.

WHO report into COVID pandemic origins zeroes in on animal markets, not labs

The lead author of the letter, David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University in California, still feels it’s important to voice his opinion — and says he can’t stop it from being misrepresented. “I am not saying I believe the virus came from a laboratory,” he says. Rather, he says that the authors of the WHO investigation report were too decisive in their conclusions...

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