THE Lancet is facing a furious backlash after backing China’s claims Covid could have leaked from an American lab.
The prestigious medical journal said it was “plausible” the virus could have emerged in United States as it unveiled the results of a two-year probe into the origins of the global pandemic.
Shi Zhengli works in a lab at the Wuhan Institute of VirologyCredit: AP
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been at the centre of the storm of the origins of CovidCredit: AFP
Security personnel keep watch outside the lab during a WHO visitCredit: Reuters
China has similarly peddled a conspiracy theory that Covid was engineered by the US and unleashed as bioweapon.
Beijing has pointed the finger at a military base in Maryland in an attempt to steer attention away from the infamous Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The Chinese lab – a high security facility specalising in coronaviruses – has been in the eye of the storm as questions rage over whether Covid could have escaped from its lab.
Both China and the lab have denied any allegations – but evidence of a lab leak has been piling up over the last two years as scientists, researchers and governments hunt for answers.
The paper from The Lancet, published on Wednesday, said it remains “feasible” that Covid could have emerged from either a natural spillover or a lab accident.
While investigators mentioned the secretive labs in Wuhan, they also noted “independent researchers have not yet investigated” labs in the US.
And they said the National Institutes of Health – responsible for carrying out research into some of the world’s deadliest viruses – has “resisted disclosing details” of its work.
When discussing the possibility of Covid emerging naturally from an animal, The Lancet claimed the creature could be located “outside of China”.
Virologists hit back at the report and said they were “shocked at how fragrantly” The Lancet ignored glaring evidence regarding the origins of the virus.
The long-awaited paper was slammed as one of the prestigious journal’s “most shameful moments”.
Professor Jeffrey Sachs, the author of The Lancet’s Covid-19 Commission report, was previously branded “Xi’s propagandist” over his pro-Beijing comments.
At a conference earlier this year, he said he was “pretty convinced” Covid “came out of a US lab of biotechology, not out of nature” – a claim seized upon by the Chinese government.
Experts slammed the new report from The Lancet – describing the idea US labs were involved as “wild speculation”.
Professor Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Canada, said she was “shocked” by the highly-anticipated results of the two-year investigation.
She told The Telegraph: “This may be one of the Lancet’s most shameful moments regarding its role as a steward and leader in communicating crucial findings about science and medicine.”
The professor said she was “pretty shocked at how flagrantly” the report ignores key evidence on Covid origins.
And Professor David Robertson, of the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Virus Research, added: “It’s really disappointing to see such a potentially influential report contributing to further misinformation on such an important topic.”
He added: “It’s true we’ve details to understand on the side of natural origins, for example the exact intermediate species involved, but that doesn’t mean there’s… any basis to the wild speculation that US labs were involved.”
Professor Sachs said investigators had “consulted widely and met with a number of scientists”.
The Lancet’s controversial editor Richard Horton has previously been accused of spreading Chinese propaganda, appearing on Chinese television hailing Beijing’s “tremendously decisive” response to the pandemic.
As he praised China, he described the UK government’s response as “the greatest science policy failure for a generation”.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation was slammed as “clueless” after spending just two hours in the Wuhan Institute of Virology before ruling out any lab leak.
A source at the health body told The Sunday Times the team who made the trip “didn’t have expertise” on viruses.
They allegedly simply quizzed employees and did not test any equipment – and a WHO source admitted the visit had achieved “close to nothing”.
The organisation has been accused of missing its only chance to stop the pandemic after delaying a global emergency warning to protect China’s economy.
While the origins of Covid remains a mystery, virology experts said a lab leak from Wuhan is now the “more likely” cause of the pandemic.
Speaking in December last year, Dr Alina Chan, a genetic engineering expert, said she was “very confident” the truth will eventually come out about the origins of the deadly bug.
The molecular biologist at MIT and Harvard believes a leak from the Wuhan lab is “more likely than not” after two unsuccessful years of searching for an animal host.
Dr Chan told British MPs: “I think the lab origin is more likely than a natural origin at this point.
“We all agree there was a critical event at the wet market that was a superspreader event – caused by humans. But there is no evidence pointing to a natural animal origin of the virus at that market.”
And Dr Chan said she was “very confident” the truth about Covid will eventually emerge in years to come – when it’s safe for whistleblowers to step forward.
“We’ve seen from previous cover-ups that it just takes time, because right now it’s not safe for people who know about the origin of the pandemic to come forward,” she said.
“It might be five years from now, it might be 50 years from now, but we live in an era where there is so much data being collected and stored that it will eventually come out.”
Some scientists have argued Covid was genetically modified by humans – with one claiming it was “ready made” to infect humans when the virus first emerged in Wuhan.
But China has repeatedly stated it is not responsible for the global pandemic and dismissed accusations from those who say the virus was manipulated by humans.
Richard Horton, editor of The LancetCredit: Alamy
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