In early 2021, 17 scientists from the World Health Organization and 17 from China teamed up for a four-week trip to Wuhan, China. The aim of the trip was to search for the origins of SARS-CoV-2 and identify the most likely ways it was introduced to human beings. By the end of March, the WHO released a report sharing the results of this investigation.
Nevertheless, the United States joined thirteen other countries in criticizing the WHO for its findings and later called for a new “transparent” investigation into the origins of the virus, even though WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated himself that this report, while an important beginning, is yet to provide all the answers to the COVID-19 mystery.
Putting aside any possible political malice behind the United States’ request, tracing back the origins of SARS-COV-2 is of great significance in itself. It will take time to find the origin of the virus and in the meantime the whole world should work together to reduce the effects of the current crisis as well as the risk of another future pandemic.
A Necessary Investigation
According to Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, Mission Head of the WHO team investigating the origins of Covid-19, it is important to understand the origins of the virus for three reasons. First, if the source of the virus is identified and it is still out there, scientists and public health experts can find a way to prevent future reintroduction of the same virus into the human population. Second, knowing how the virus once jumped from animals to humans could contribute to the effort of preventing similar incidents from happening again in the future. Lastly, with a good knowledge of where the virus came from, the medical community will be in a better position to develop effective treatments and vaccines.
The Natural Origin Theory
The Natural Origin Theory argues that the virus spread naturally from animals outside of a clinical environment. This theory is supported by the WHO report which concluded the virus was possibly introduced to the community through an unknown animal that acted as an intermediary between bats, which carried an ancestral form of the virus, and people. According to the WHO, finding this animal would be the first step on a long journey toward determining how the spillover into the human population originally occurred.
The Lab Leak Theory
Since US President announced an urgent investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the controversial claim that the virus might have leaked from a Chinese laboratory has once again come into the public view. Disappointingly, like so much else in the United States lately, it is no longer a matter of public health, but a cudgel used to slam those one disagrees with politically.
According to virologist Vincent Racaniello, Professor of Microbiology & Immunology at Columbia University Medical Center, there is zero direct evidence the virus came from a lab and that such an idea completely ignores known scientific facts.
This issue that the Lab Leak Theory is backed only by circumstantial evidence is clearly noted in how the Western media covers the topic: “The evidence hasn’t changed since Spring of 2020,” – Wired Magazine, “Scientists don’t want to ignore the ‘lab leak’ theory, despite no new evidence,” – The New York Times, and “The lab-leak hypothesis is gaining currency even as the facts remain the same,” – The Atlantic Magazine.
WHO Executive Director of Health Emergencies Dr. Mike Ryan recently stated, “…politicization of COVID origins in the media puts the WHO frankly in an impossible position to deliver answers the world wants.” The inability to separate science from politics will undoubtedly put the world at greater risk for future emergencies as objectivity is now soured by suspicion and political grievance.
The US Problem
Accusations touting the Lab Leak theory do not seem designed to identify the scientific truth of the virus’ origins. The recent resurgence in Lab Leak hypotheses from American politicians and dutifully repeated by its sensationalism driven media disingenuously cast blame while simultaneously justifying the American government’s inadequate containment of the pandemic.
Sadly, this is yet again another symptom of the ongoing dysfunction of the American political system, the head-spinning doublespeak it must use to justify the globe-rattling swings between the political parties, and the unending domestic “Culture War” America’s leaders of all political stripes use to keep its citizenry in a constant state of agitation. Former President overwhelmingly praised China’s coronavirus response before sharply changing his tone to improve his chance at re-election. The Democratic Party and US President denounced condemnation of China’s handling of the virus as racially motivated before passing legislation to spend USD 300 million for a “Countering Chinese Influence” fund, and USD 100 million in funds for media companies to “raise awareness of and increase transparency regarding the negative impact of activities related to the Belt and Road Initiative”.
This automatically raises doubts to the intentions of the media’s treatment of the virus origins issue. Never has a world power made such a blatant and direct announcement of its intention to mislead public opinion via purposely intervening in journalistic integrity.
Hunting down the virus’ origins is for the common good of all people. If this complicated, sensitive, and important work cannot be done impartially and professionally, we will all suffer the consequences. Unfortunately, the United States’ actions make it difficult to foresee how scientific objectivity wins out over political point-scoring. Is it any wonder that international cooperation on tracing the origins of COVID-19 seems to be going nowhere?