EU joins call for new probe into Covid's origins

EU joins call for new probe into Covid’s origins after WHO report was slammed for dismissing lab leak theory now backed by US intelligence

  • EU leaders have joined growing calls for a new probe into the origins of Covid 
  • Comes after WHO probe this year was slammed for dismissing lab leak theory 
  • Theory has been backed by US intelligence, with a new probe ordered by Biden 
  • Urusla von der Leyen said today that investigators should be given ‘complete access’ to sites in the probe – a possible reference to the Wuhan lab 

The EU has thrown its weight behind a new probe into the origins of Covid after a WHO investigation earlier this year was slammed as a China-centric whitewash. 

Council President Charles Michel said today that ‘the world has the right to know exactly what happened’ at the start of the pandemic, ahead of the G7 summit in Britain where the issue is expected to be on the agenda.

Ursula von der Leyen added that investigators should be given ‘complete access’ to whatever sites they need to examine to draw a conclusion – alluding to a Wuhan lab that has come under fresh suspicion as a potential ‘ground zero’ for the virus.

Last month, Joe Biden ordered US intelligence agencies to conduct a fresh probe of Covid’s origins – admitting they are ‘split’ on whether the virus leaked from the lab.  

The so-called lab leak theory has long been the subject of informed speculation among intelligence services and scientists, but was dismissed as little more than a conspiracy theory after it was touted by then-President Trump last year.

Ursula von der Leyen (left) and Charles Michel (right) have thrown the EU’s backing behind a new probe into the origins of Covid

It comes amid increasing suspicion that the virus may have leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan after the idea was backed by some US intelligence agencies

Did Covid originate in Chinese laboratory? 

The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been collecting numerous coronaviruses from bats ever since the SARS outbreak in 2002.

They have also published papers describing how these bat viruses have interacted with human cells.

US Embassy staff visited the lab in 2018 and ‘had grave safety concerns’ over the protocols which were being observed at the facility.

The lab is just eight miles from the Huanan wet market which is where the first cluster of infections erupted in Wuhan.

The market is just a few hundred yards from another lab called the Wuhan Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (WHCDC).

The WHCDC kept disease-ridden animals in its labs, including some 605 bats.

Those who support the theory argue that Covid-19 could have leaked from either or both of these facilities and spread to the wet market.

Most argue that this would have been a virus they were studying rather than one which was engineered.

Last year a bombshell paper from the Beijing-sponsored South China University of Technology recounted how bats once attacked a researcher at the WHCDC and ‘blood of bat was on his skin.’  

One of the researchers at the WHCDC described quarantining himself for two weeks after a bat’s blood got on his skin, according to the report. That same man also quarantined himself after a bat urinated on him.

And he also mentions discovering a live tick from a bat – parasites known for their ability to pass infections through a host animal’s blood.

‘The WHCDC was also adjacent to the Union Hospital (Figure 1, bottom) where the first group of doctors were infected during this epidemic.’ The report says.

‘It is plausible that the virus leaked around and some of them contaminated the initial patients in this epidemic, though solid proofs are needed in future study.’  

A WHO report into Covid’s origins published earlier this year also dismissed the theory, saying it was ‘extremely unlikely’ and should not be investigated further.

Instead, researchers said the virus likely originated in a bat before transferring to an intermediary host and then into humans – while also giving credence to other theories emanating from Beijing, such as it being imported on frozen meat.

Their report was widely dismissed as a whitewash, including by the US – with diplomats telling the UN last month that the study was ‘insufficient and inconclusive’.

Even WHO director Tedros Ghebreyesus – who has been accused of cosying up to China – objected, saying the lab leak theory remained on the table and that all possible origins of Covid should continue to be investigated.

Mr Michel and Ms Von der Leyen were also speaking ahead of a joint EU-US summit next week, when a joint statement is expected to be issued calling for a Covid probe.

A daft text of that statement says: ‘We call for progress on a transparent, evidence-based and expert-led WHO-convened phase 2 study on the origins of COVID-19, that is free from interference.’ 

The Covid pandemic has so-far infected at least 175million people in virtually every country in the world and killed 3.7million, though both numbers are thought to be large under-estimates. 

The first cases of the virus were identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, in what was then reported as ‘pneumonia of unknown origin’.

In January the infections were attributed to a novel virus which was eventually named by the WHO as SARS-CoV-2.

Many of the original cases were linked to a wet market in the city which sold a mixture of farmed and wild animals, leading to the theory that the disease originated in an animal host before crossing into humans.

But few now believe the wet market was the original source of the virus, and think the virus may have found its way there from another source before spreading.

The true source of the virus remains a mystery, with ‘patient zero’ – the first person to have caught the disease – yet to be identified.

That has led to competing theories about where, when and how the virus first crossed into humans – though researchers all agree that answering these questions are vital to understanding Covid, and preventing future pandemics.

Many researchers and a portion of the US intelligence community still back the ‘zoonotic spillover’ hypothesis which suggests the virus originated in animals before crossing into humans during contact between the two species.

Proponents of this theory say the virus likely originated in bats, because other similar viruses have been found in the animals before.

The virus is then said to have jumped directly from bats into humans – or, because contact between bats and humans is rare, it may have infected a secondary host that is more commonly found around people before making the jump.

Official timeline 

Dec 8, 2019 – Earliest date that China has acknowledged an infection

Dec 31 – China first reported ‘pneumonia of unknown cause’ to the World Health Organisation

Jan 1, 2020 – Wuhan seafood market closed for disinfection

Jan 11 – China reported its first death 

Jan 23 – Wuhan locked down

Jan 31 – WHO declared ‘outbreak of international concern’ as China admitted having thousands of cases

Feb 23 – Italy reports cluster of cases in first major outbreak in the West 

New evidence 

Sep 2019– Blood samples are taken in a lung cancer screening trial in Italy which later test positive for coronavirus

Oct-Dec – Rise in ‘flu and pneumonia’ cases in northern Italy which could be linked to coronavirus  

Nov – Sewage samples taken in Florianópolis, Brazil, suggest virus was present

Nov 10 – Milanese woman has a skin biopsy, producing a sample which later shows signs of the virus  

Nov 17 – Leaked documents suggest case detected in China on this date

Dec 1 – Chinese researchers report an infection on this date in a peer-reviewed study, but it has not been acknowledged by Beijing 

Dec 18 – Sewage samples taken in Milan and Turin suggest virus was circulating in the cities 

Jan 2020 – Sewage samples from Barcelona suggest virus was in the city

Covid is known to infect a number of other animals including domestic pets such as dogs and cats, though it is not known to jump from there into humans.

Some farmed animals, such as mink, have been known to harbour the disease and then pass it back to people. 

But others suggest the true source of the virus was the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a Chinese lab located near Wuhan that also happens to be the world’s largest centre of research on coronaviruses.

They believe the virus was either uncovered at the lab – which collects coronaviruses from wild animals – or else engineered through ‘gain of function’ research.

Such research involves adding properties such as increased transmissibility  to already-existing viruses to study the effects and develop treatments before such diseases crop up in the wild.

But the research is hugely controversial, with many scientists arguing the risks of creating such viruses far outweigh the potential benefits.   

According to proponents of this theory, the virus then leaked from the lab -possibly by infecting staff who then unwittingly passed it to the general population.

One intelligence report passed to agencies in Washington claims three members of staff at the laboratory sought hospital treatment in November 2019 – a month before the first official cases of Covid were detected, the Wall Street Journal reported. 

Their symptoms were ‘consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness’, the report says, calling for further investigation.

That tallies with a body of evidence suggesting Covid may have been circulating for months before China first reported it to the world – either as a result of the often-mild disease going undetected, or the result of a cover-up.

Scientists in Italy claim to have detected evidence of Covid in blood samples taken as far back as September 2019, while researchers in Spain say the disease could have been present there in January 2020 – months before the first official case.

Even the authors of the much-derided WHO report admitted they could not rule out the possibility that Covid was circulating before December 2019.

China has vehemently denied any suggestion that Covid leaked from the lab and has accused the US of ‘playing politics’ by reigniting suspicion in the theory.

Instead, Beijing has made a number of incendiary and unsubstantiated allegations that Covid actually originated outside of the country and was imported.

So-far, researchers and diplomats have pointed the finger of blame at nine countries including the US, Australia and India – all rivals of Beijing. 

Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO director (left, shaking hands with China’s Xi Jingping), has said that all options including the lab leak hypothesis should remain on the table

Chinese scientists and officials have been keen to point the finger of blame outside their own borders – variously suggesting that Covid could have originated in Bangladesh, the US, Greece, Australia, India, Italy, Czech Republic, Russia or Serbia  

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