As the Beijing Olympics are about to begin, a group of international scientists are once again calling for a “thorough international investigation” into the origins of COVID-19.
It is the latest in a series of forceful letters demanding more transparency from the Chinese government, once again fueling a contentious debate that has continued throughout the many months of the pandemic.
The letter – signed by 20 scientists from the US, UK, Germany, New Zealand, France, Australia, India and Japan – echoes what have become broad appeals internationals to a closer look, unfettered by geopolitics, of where COVID-19 came from. It also underscores continued criticism from the United States and international bodies of the Chinese government’s lack of cooperation.
“The Olympic Charter states that ‘The aim of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of mankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,'” the group wrote. scientific, co-organized by Jamie Metzl, former WHO adviser and senior researcher at the Atlantic Council. “Sadly, as athletes from around the world gather today for the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022, this noble aspiration is being undermined by the host government’s continued efforts to prevent a thorough international investigation into the origins of the COVID-19. 19 pandemic.”
A thorough and united examination of the origins of COVID-19 is “a faithful representation of the ideals that underpin the Olympic movement“, the letter states, and “would foster openness and mutual trust”, especially at a time when the athletes from around the world gather in Beijing.
Failing to understand how the virus – which is now responsible for the deaths of more than 5.7 million people worldwide – leaves “everyone on earth and future generations … at heightened and unnecessary risk of future pandemics”, indicates the letter.
No definitive conclusions have yet been reached as to the origin of COVID-19, with international US health and intelligence agencies stuck between two theories: whether the virus emerged from natural animal spillover, or whether it came from an accidental lab experiment leak in Wuhan, China.
Following President Joe Biden’s 90-day effort this summer to have his intelligence agencies ‘double their efforts’ to uncover a more definitive conclusion on the origins of COVID-19, the intelligence community has remained ‘divided’ over its origins. most likely. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in its report, pointed to obstacles to finding concrete answers, namely the Chinese government’s unnecessary non-cooperation, which is “likely to impede the investigation.”
A team led by the World Health Organization also stressed that there needs to be more sharing of records, samples and raw data for real progress to take place.
The WHO’s first-phase study into the origins of COVID-19, which deemed a lab leak “extremely unlikely”, faced a barrage of questions about access and transparency issues. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there was still work to be done and the assessment had not been “thorough enough”.
Months later, Tedros admitted it was “premature” to dismiss the lab leak theory so soon and stressed that they needed China’s cooperation with their labs’ raw data to help dismiss the lab leak theory.
The UN health agency has formed a new team of scientists for a new phase of investigation which included lab audits – which the Chinese government has rejected, saying they cannot accept unnecessary ‘repetitive research’ when “clear conclusions” had already been reached.
Without a new flow of this solid information, the debate over the origins of COVID-19 has remained shrouded in a fog of circumstantial evidence.
“The thing is, they just aren’t, they just aren’t transparent,” Biden said of China during his press conference earlier this month, adding that he “made it clear to President Xi Jinping at their November summit that “China had an obligation to be more open about the exact source of the virus.”
Meanwhile, Beijing has vehemently denied that the virus could have originated from any of its labs, pushing for the investigation to focus on outside China. Chinese authorities have suggested, without evidence, that the virus was already spreading in the United States before the end of 2019 – attempting to shift the focus from early virus clusters from Wuhan to a conspiracy theory that COVID-19 came from a US Army laboratory.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted in March 2020 that “it may be the US military that brought the outbreak to Wuhan,” saying US military athletes who attended the World Military Games in Wuhan in October 2019 could have been responsible for introducing COVID-19. China.
US Department of Defense officials strongly pushed back against the accusation, calling it “disinformation and disinformation”, and Chad Sbragia, then deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, called claims that the virus has started with a member of the US military “obviously false”. and, frankly, useless.”
Experts say it could take years to find the origins of COVID-19, even with full international cooperation and an intact trail of scientific evidence. It took scientists more than a decade to identify the bat population that was behind an outbreak of SARS in 2002.
Even so, they also point out that understanding where and how this pandemic began can be crucial to preventing the next one.
“Understanding how this terrible crisis began is essential to preventing future pandemics,” the letter states, “and building a safer future for all.”
ABC News’ Sony Salzman contributed to this report.