Considerable evidence points to the COVID-19 pandemic being linked to the high-level laboratory in Wuhan, China, that is located near where the first cases were reported, a U.S. Senate report released Oct. 27 says.
“Substantial evidence suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic was the result of a research-related incident associated with a laboratory in Wuhan, China,” the report says.
“A research-related incident is consistent with the early epidemiology showing rapid spread of the virus exclusively in Wuhan with the earliest calls for assistance being located in the same district as the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s (WIV) original campus in central Wuhan. The WIV is an epicenter of advanced coronavirus research, where researchers have collected samples of and experimented on high-risk coronaviruses.”
The origins of COVID-19 are still unknown. Some scientists lean towards a lab origin, which would mean the virus leaked or was released by Chinese researchers. Others favor the natural origin theory.
The report says a natural origin remains possible but noted that evidence found in previous instances of a virus starting in nature has not been identified for COVID-19, such as the original animal host.
“Such gaps include the failure to identify the original host reservoir, the failure to identify a candidate intermediate host species, and the lack of serological or epidemiological evidence showing transmission from animals to humans, among others outlined in this report,” the report states. “As a result of these evidentiary gaps, it is hard to treat the natural zoonotic spillover theory as the presumptive origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The 35-page document (pdf) was produced by minority staff on the Senate Health Committee under the direction of Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the panel’s ranking member. It was described as an interim report.
Staffers spent 15 months poring over hundreds of scientific studies, interviewing dozens of subject matter experts, and analyzing previous reports and studies on the possible origins, Burr said.
“I believe that this report provides a significant contribution to the existing body of evidence and helps establish parameters for how future analyses should be reviewed,” he said.
The lack of transparency from the Chinese Communist Party “prevents reaching a more definitive conclusion,” he said.
Burr and Sen. Patty Murray, the panel’s chair, in June 2021 announced a bipartisan effort that was set to include “reviewing information from federal agencies and relevant experts regarding the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19, and regarding how to improve the nation’s ability to assess the safety and security of biosafety laboratories.”
Neither Murray nor her staff were said to be involved in the interim report.
Murray’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The report came after a recent study concluded that the odds of a natural origin for COVID-19 were less than 1 in 100 million after analyzing qualitative aspects, such as virus features.