‘Zero’ evidence for natural COVID-19 origin

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A panel of scientists fiercely debated Tuesday whether COVID-19 stemmed from a laboratory accident or naturally spread from animals to humans, with one expert declaring there was “zero” evidence for a natural origin of the pandemic that killed millions around the world.
Rutgers University molecular biologist Dr. Richard Ebright said in his opening statement before the Senate Homeland Security Committee that the “large preponderance of evidence indicates SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, entered humans through a research incident.”
Ebright, who was joined in arguing for the so-called “lab-leak theory” by Dr. Stephen Quay, a former professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, added that “no — zero — secure evidence points to COVID’s natural origins.”
8 “No — zero — secure evidence points to COVID’s natural origins,” Dr. Richard Ebright testified. Homeland Security
“The probability this actually came from nature based on these features is one in a million,” Quay concurred.
COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China, more than 800 miles from “the closest bats harboring SARS-CoV-2 live viruses that could have served as progenitors,” he noted.
The now-debarred Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) conducted US-funded, gain-of-function research on SARS-like bat viruses between 2014 and 2021.
During that research period, the WIV conducted “the world’s largest research program on bat SARS viruses” and had “the world’s largest collection of bat SARS viruses,” Ebright added.
Additionally, the Rutgers prof said, the Wuhan lab had conducted experiments with SARS viruses that had a “high pandemic potential” in the four years before COVID-19 — and just one year earlier, had run research with the genetically modified SARS viruses “that match in detail the features of SARS-CoV-2.”
That research was funded by a more than $4 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to the since-suspended Manhattan-based public health nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, about half a million dollars of which directly flowed to WIV.
8 Scientists in a Tuesday Capitol Hill hearing fiercely debated whether the COVID-19 pandemic sprung from a laboratory accident or naturally spilled over from animals to humans. Homeland Security
8 The now-debarred Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) conducted US-funded, gain-of-function research on SARS-like bat viruses between 2014 and 2021. REUTERS
EcoHealth lost its status as a federal grantee for likely violating biosafety standards with its WIV project, titled “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence,” and failing to immediately report the experiments, which resulted in a modified virus that was 10,000 times more infectious.
EcoHealth, led by Dr. Peter Daszak, has denied that the experiments constituted gain-of-function research — despite testimony from NIH principal deputy director Dr. Lawrence Tabak last month stating that it was.
Quay in his opening remarks said that scientists “dependent on NIH or NIAID funding may have pressure to publicly agree with orthodoxies,” such as arguing against SARS-CoV-2 escaping a research lab.
8 Dr. Stephen Quay said that scientists “dependent on NIH or NIAID funding may have pressure to publicly agree with orthodoxies,” such as arguing against SARS-CoV-2 escaping a research lab. Homeland Security
That implicated one of the panel’s other witnesses, Dr. Robert Garry, who has received NIH funding and authored a controversial scientific paper — prompted by then-National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci — in early 2020 to debunk the lab leak theory.
Ebright in his opening remarks noted that the paper, “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2,” was published in March 2020 as “an opinion piece,” not backed by available evidence, and completely disproven by “private communications” of the authors that were released last year by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.
“Four of the authors of that paper,” he said, “in their private communications show clearly that they knew the conclusion that they state in that article is invalid.”
8 “I firmly believe the available evidence indicates that the spillover happened naturally likely at the seafood market in Wuhan, China,” Dr. Robert Garry testified. Homeland Security
Scientists have twice requested the retraction of the paper, Ebright added, suggesting that its authors were guilty of “scientific misconduct” and potentially fraud.
Both Garry, a professor and associate dean at Tulane University School of Medicine, and Gregory Koblentz, an associate professor and director of the Biodefense Graduate Program at George Mason University, argued against the theory during the Senate hearing.
“I firmly believe the available evidence indicates that the spillover happened naturally likely at the seafood market in Wuhan, China,” Garry testified, without immediately explaining the evidence that led him to that conclusion.
8 Gregory Koblentz noted that the theory that it “was deliberately developed as a biological weapon has been unanimously rejected by all US intelligence agencies.” Homeland Security
In subsequent questioning, the Tulane professor admitted that “we don’t know” whether the WIV had the virus, and “we don’t have the evidence from the Chinese” that points either way.
“I am first and foremost a scientist, and I will adhere to the scientific method, so I will continue to evaluate the evidence and reassess the validity of my scientific hypotheses regarding the origin since I’ve spoken to you,” Garry told panel members, adding later that he still stood by the 2020 paper arguing against the lab leak.
“Natural spillovers have multiple markets,” Quay pointed out at another point, referencing facts related to the earlier SARS virus that ripped through China beginning in 2002.
8 Medical workers in protective suits work at the coronavirus detection lab in Wuhan. AP
Koblentz noted that the US intelligence community remained “divided” about the origins of COVID-19, but the theory that it “was deliberately developed as a biological weapon has been unanimously rejected by all US intelligence agencies.”
The rare bipartisan congressional investigation into COVID origins was presided over by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and ranking member, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is also a doctor.
“The COVID-19 pandemic was one of the worst public health crises that our country has ever faced,” Peters said in his opening statement. “We lost more than 1 million Americans to the virus. … Today’s hearing is intended to examine the available scientific evidence related to the virus.”
“Given the likelihood that the Chinese government may never fully disclose all the information they have about the initial COVID-19 outbreak, we must use the scientific information available to better prepare for future potential pandemics,” Peters affirmed.
8 Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in his opening remarks highlighted the “private doubts” of many of the lab leak opponents — who smeared those skeptical of a natural origin as “conspiracy theorists.” AP
Paul in his opening remarks highlighted the “private doubts” of many of the lab leak opponents — who smeared those skeptical of a natural origin as “conspiracy theorists.”
“The cover up went beyond public statements, federal agencies and key officials withheld and continue to conceal crucial information from both Congress and the public,” Paul said, thanking Peters for joining him in leading the committee hearing.
“HHS and NIH have not produced documents related to the gain of function research that the chairman and I requested over a year ago,” he added, “and they’re still resisting.”

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