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Truth about COVID origins remains unknown over three years on

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Chinese and American presidents Xi Jinping and Joe Biden (image via Flickr)

Conflicting narratives around the origins of COVID continue to abound while we wait for more conclusive evidence to emerge, reports Brendan Irwin.

A BOMBSHELL was dropped on 14 June as the investigative journalists released new information on Substack, citing a source within the U.S. Government who claims that among the first patients to be infected with COVID include Ben Hu, a gain-of-function researcher at the Wuhan lab.

The bombshell report appears substantive as it was written by the same investigative journalists who uncovered The Twitter FilesMichael Shellenberger and Matt Taibbi (along with reporter Alex Gutentag).

On 20 June, a journalist at The Wall Street Journal independently confirmed these claims that three employees from the Wuhan lab were among the first patients to be infected with COVID.

Whilst these claims are of significant interest to those who favour the lab leak hypothesis, we still have no definitive proof of a lab leak, nor definitive proof to confirm the natural origin hypothesis.

The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report on 23 June identifying that "most" in the U.S. intelligence community assess that ‘the initial human infection with SARS-CoV-2 most likely was caused by natural exposure to an infected animal that carried SARS-CoV-2’.

The report also states that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV):

‘… has no information, however, indicating that any WIV genetic engineering work has involved SARS-CoV-2, a close progenitor, or a backbone virus that is closely-related enough to have been the source of the pandemic’.

The report did not provide any new de-classified material despite a law being passed in the COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023 in March 2023 by the U.S. Congress which aims to declassify, ‘as much of that information as possible’ relating to intelligence concerned with the origins of COVID.

Representative Mike Gallagher, member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, criticised the Office of the Director of National Intelligence report arguing that it ‘obscures more than it illuminates’.

In response to these recent allegations, Ben Hu contacted Science this week denying that he was sick in late 2019, all that his coronavirus research led to the pandemic describing these claims as, ‘ridiculous’ and describing these claims as ‘fake news’.

As such, we have claims from inside of U.S. intelligence that Ben Hu was among the first people to be infected with the virus, and Ben Hu claiming these allegations are untrue — however, neither claim has been substantiated by any further evidence.

In the same response to Science, Ben Hu writes:

'My colleagues and I tested for SARS-CoV-2 antibody in early March 2020, and we were all negative.’

Jamie Metzl, former World Health Organisation employee, responded to this claim on U.S. media this week, arguing that the possibility that all of Ben Hu’s colleagues had tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 antibody in early March 2020 is "statistically impossible based on the prevalence of COVID-19 in Wuhan at the time".

Metzl sparked controversy back in 2020 by publicly advocating in favour of an investigation into the lab leak theory as well as continuing research into the potential that this SARS-CoV-2 might be the product of a "Zoonotic jump".

Metzl was also the lead witness at the 8 March 2023 hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.

During his testimony to the subcommittee that day, Metzl argued:

"…in the earliest days of the pandemic, I began looking at the available evidence and became convinced that a COVID-19 lab origin was at very least a serious possibility needing to be fully investigated."

Metzl maintains that both the natural origin hypothesis and the lab leak hypothesis are possible however, Metzl leans towards the latter, arguing

"Although nothing can be fully conclusive in light of Chinese obfuscation, the continued absence of any meaningful evidence of a zoonotic chain of transmission and mutation in the wild and the accretion of other evidence is pointing increasingly, in my view, toward an accidental lab leak as the most likely origin of COVID-19."

The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee, originally established by Nancy Pelosi, is a bipartisan committee made up of six Democrats, eight Republicans and chaired by Brad Wenstrup.

On 19 April 2023, the Subcommittee issued a press release stating 'expert witnesses testified that current American intelligence and intelligence during the height of the pandemic support the lab leak as the only credible explanation for the origination of COVID-19’.

Further, it said:

‘The witnesses also detailed the politicization of the lab leak hypothesis by intelligence community officials who were afraid to align with the beliefs of the Republican Administration.’

Many claims have emerged over the past two weeks however, compelling evidence is necessary to further substantiate the claims that employees at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were among those first infected by COVID.

While these claims did not provide any definitive evidence this seems to be reasonable support provided through expert testimony in favour of U.S. intelligence agencies continuing to investigate both the natural origin hypothesis and the lab leak hypothesis.

As the eventual truth pertaining to the origins of COVID-19 has no relationship to partisanship, it seems prudent to keep an open mind about either possibility until more substantive evidence emerges.

Brendan Irwin is a current philosophy honours student. 

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Truth about COVID origins remains unknown over three years on

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