Originally rejected by health care experts and government officials, the hypothesis that the coronavirus came out accidentally from a Chinese laboratory is now receiving new attention from US authorities.
Experts have said that the 90-day investigation, requested on May 26 by US President Joe Biden, will push US intelligence agencies to gather more data and analyze what they already have.
Former US State Department officials, during the administration of former President Donald Trump, have made public calls for additional investigations, as have other scientists and the World Health Organization.
Many scientists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said they still believe the virus comes from nature and was transmitted from animals to humans. Virus researchers have not publicly identified any new scientific data that could make the hypothesis of coronavirus leakage from the laboratory more likely.
Virologists have also said there is little chance that any definitive answer to the origin of the coronavirus will be made public in 90 days.
Work to fully confirm the origin of viruses in the past – such as SARS or HIV / AIDS – has taken years or decades.
What are intelligence agencies analyzing?
Biden has ordered a review of what the White House has considered “two possible scenarios,” of transmitting the virus from animals to humans or leaking it from the laboratory.
A White House statement said two agencies in the intelligence community – out of 18 – were biased against the virus.
A document that has gained new attention is from the US State Department, published in the last days of the Trump administration. It states that the United States believes that three researchers in Wuhan, China sought medical treatment for respiratory disease in November 2019.
However the report is not conclusive: the origin and extent of staff illness is unknown – and many people in China go to hospitals constantly, not for emergencies, but for routine check-ups.
The document also states that experiments to change viruses and diseases – which could potentially promote death or spread – were conducted in a laboratory in Wuhan with US support.
However, the director of the National Institutes of Health, Franic Collins, has denied that there was US support for such coronavirus experiments in Wuhan.
David Feith, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs during the Trump administration, has said he has backed Biden’s call for another review.
“The president’s statement implies that there is more to analyze and more data to be collected,” Feith said.
However, the head of the National Intelligence has refused to comment on this issue, reports the Associated Press news agency.
Why is China blocking investigations?
In the White House statement, China was criticized for lack of transparency.
“Failure to send inspectors to the field in the first months will always hamper investigations into the origin of the coronavirus,” the White House said.
China has reportedly forced some journalists to flee the country in recent years and silenced or imprisoned informants from Wuhan and other countries.
The lack of transparency in China is very important and a challenge already known. But this in reality does not indicate that something is hiding.
“The problem is that when you make a statement (such as Biden calling for an investigation) in a highly political environment, this makes it less likely that China will cooperate in finding the origin of the virus.” said Yanzhong Huang, senior global health researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations.
What do scientists believe about the origin of the virus?
The most convincing argument for investigating the possibility of the virus leaving the laboratory is not based on any new data, but on the fact that other possibilities of virus circulation are not 100 percent confirmed.
“The biggest possibility is that the virus has come from wildlife,” said Arinjay Banerjee, a virologist at the Organization for Vaccines and Infectious Diseases in Saskatchewan, Canada.
He said it was common for the virus to be transmitted from animals to humans, and that scientists already had knowledge of two similar coronaviruses that had developed in the naked and caused epidemics when humans became infected: SARS1 and MERS.
However, the case is not completely closed.
“There are opportunities and opportunities. “Since no one has identified an animal virus that is 100 percent identical to the new coronavirus, there is still room for research and other possibilities.”
How long does the process of confirming the origin of the virus take?
Confirmation with 100% certainty about the origin of the coronavirus is not a quick, easy and always possible process.
For example, scientists have never confirmed the origin of smallpox before the disease was eradicated through a global vaccination program.
In the case of SARS, one of which is also caused by the young coronavirus, scientists identified such viruses in February 2013.
Later in the year, scientists discovered what may have mediated the disease: civet cats were found at animal markets in markets in Guangdong, China.
But by 2017, researchers had not found the original source of the virus in naked caves in China’s Yunnan province.
How important is it to understand the origin?
From a scientific perspective, researchers always want to understand more about how diseases develop. From a public health perspective, if a virus is easily transmitted from person to person, detection of origin is not essential for designing strategies to stop the disease.
“Questions about the origin and control of the disease are not the same thing when human-to-human transmission becomes commonplace,” said Deborah Seligsohn, a public health and environmental expert at Villanova University.
Republicans have pushed forward the idea for more investigations into the idea that the virus came out of the lab and blamed China.
In the United States alone, nearly 600,000 people have died from coronavirus, the highest death toll in any country.
What happens after 90 days?
Many scientists believe that there is no possibility that a 90-day investigation will provide a definitive answer.
“It rarely happens,” said Stephen Morse, a disease researcher at Columbia University.
“Even in the best of circumstances, it is rare to have so much certainty.”
Any finding is likely to be politically explosive, especially if there is evidence to support or disprove any theory.
And failure to reach conclusions, which may be inevitable after 90 days, could strengthen conspiracy theories.
Meanwhile, experts like Huang from the Council on Foreign Relations suspect that China could become even more isolated, which could potentially complicate already tense relations with the United States.
“This could make it even more challenging to give permission for another team to visit Vuhan, or unrestricted access to investigations there,” he said.