A group of scientists who infamously rejected the theory that Covid leaked from a Wuhan laboratory have doubled down on their claim in a new letter.
The international coalition of experts said there was still ‘no scientifically validated evidence’ to support the so-called ‘lab leak theory’.
Signatories include Dr Peter Daszak, the British president of EcoHealth Alliance, which funnelled money into controversial research at a Wuhan Institute of Virology, and UK Government scientific adviser Sir Jeremy Farrar.
The letter, published in the Lancet, follows a controversial piece in the same journal last February, which claimed the lab leak theory created ‘fear’ and ‘prejudice’.
It has been heavily criticised in recent weeks after it emerged at least one of the signatories had undisclosed financial ties to the Wuhan lab.
Twenty-four of the scientists who signed last year’s letter have also put their name to the new edition, which said ‘allegations are of no help’ and that the ‘strongest clue’ about the origin of the virus points to it evolving in nature.
But three did not appear on the recent update, including Professor Peter Palese who previously told MailOnline a ‘lot of disturbing information’ had surfaced since the letter and he wanted ‘to see answers covering all questions’.
The mainstream school of thought is that the coronavirus first emerged in bats and jumped to a host species before finally being passed to humans.
However, despite being more than 16 months into the pandemic, scientists have still not found any trace of the virus in the animal population.
The lack of evidence, combined with a series of recent revelations that the Chinese Government concealed crucial data, has led many to question the official narrative.
Pictured: The Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, where some experts believe Covid may have originated
Pictured: Dr Peter Daszak, one of the signatories of the letter, at the Wuhan Institute of Virology last year
In their new letter, the experts say there is more evidence to support the natural origin hypothesis.
They wrote: ‘Recently, many of us have individually received inquiries asking whether we still support what we said in early 2020.
‘The answer is clear: we reaffirm our expression of solidarity with those in China who confronted the outbreak then, and the many health professionals around the world who have since worked to exhaustion, and at personal risk, in the relentless and continuing battle against this virus.
‘Our respect and gratitude have only grown with time.’
DID COVID LEAK FROM A WUHAN LAB? THE EVIDENCE FOR AND AGAINST
Evidence for Wuhan lab-leak theory
An article in the respected Science journal on May 14 kick-started the recent surge in interest for the lab-leak theory.
Some 18 experts wrote in the journal that ‘we must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data’.
Later that month, a study by British Professor Angus Dalgleish and Norwegian scientist Dr Birger Sørensen claimed it had ‘prima facie evidence of retro-engineering in China’ for a year.
The study included accusations of ‘deliberate destruction, concealment or contamination of data’ at Chinese labs.
It followed statements from the WHO Director General, US and EU that greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve.
Previously, the theory had been dismissed as conspiracy by most experts, partly because of its association with President Donald Trump.
President Joe Biden in May ordered a full investigation into the origin of the pandemic virus and demanded scientists work out whether there is truth to the theory.
The head of the World Health Organization insisted just a day earlier that the theory that Covid emerged from a Wuhan lab has not been ruled out — as he said China should help solve the mystery out of ‘respect’ for the dead.
The body’s director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, suggested that Beijing had not cooperated fully as he urged more ‘transparency’ in the continuing investigation.
Evidence against the theory
Several other sects of the scientific community continue to suggest the virus could only be natural in origin.
A series of recent papers pointed to the virus evolving in animals before being transmitted to humans, in the same way as all other previously discovered coronaviruses.
The first study, published in Scientific Reports, showed some 47,000 wild animals from 38 species were sold across four markets in Wuhan between May 2017 and November 2019.
The authors, including Dr Chris Newman, an evolutionary ecologist at Oxford University, claimed the evidence showed the conditions for animal-to-human transmission were in place in Wuhan.
But they acknowledged there was no proof Sars-CoV-2 was present or originated in any of these animals.
A joint World Health Organization-China investigation also concluded it was ‘very likely’ the virus jumped from bats to humans via an as-yet-unknown intermediary animal.
They described any theory suggesting otherwise as ‘allegations and conjecture’, which will not help to uncover how the virus came about.
While the new letter calls for ‘careful and transparent collection of scientific information’, the authors make clear their position is it is unlikely the virus came from the lab.
It says: ‘It is time to turn down the heat of the rhetoric and turn up the light of scientific inquiry if we are to be better prepared to stem the next pandemic, whenever it comes and wherever it begins.
‘Allegations and conjecture are of no help, as they do not facilitate access to information and objective assessment of the pathway from a bat virus to a human pathogen that might help to prevent a future pandemic.
It adds: ‘Recrimination has not, and will not, encourage international cooperation and collaboration.
‘New viruses can emerge anywhere, so maintaining transparency and cooperation between scientists everywhere provides an essential early warning system.
‘Cutting professional links and reducing data sharing will not make us safer.
‘The critical question we must address now is, how did SARS-CoV-2 reach the human population? This is important because it is such insights that will drive what the world must urgently do to prevent another tragedy like Covid-19.
‘We believe the strongest clue from new, credible, and peer-reviewed evidence in the scientific literature is that the virus evolved in nature, while suggestions of a laboratory-leak source of the pandemic remain without scientifically validated evidence that directly supports it in peer-reviewed scientific journals.’
Among the most well known signatories is Dr Daszak, one of the ringleaders of the original letter.
Dr Daszak was last month removed from a Lancet commission looking at the origins of the pandemic over his ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
He works for EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based non profit that funded the the lab to carry out controversial gain-of-function research.
The studies involve collecting the world’s most dangerous viruses and genetically engineering them to be able to infect humans, with the goal of developing treatments that could preempt future pandemics.
Gain-of-function research is banned in the US and UK, which means funding is often sent via research teams in the West to China, where it is still allowed.
Professor Palese, a microbiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, was one of the original signatories who did not author the new letter.
He made a significant U-turn 16 months after signing the original letter, admitting all theories on how Covid came about now need proper investigating.
Last month he told MailOnline a ‘lot of disturbing information’ had surfaced since the letter and he wanted ‘to see answers covering all questions’.
Dr William Karesh, a colleague of Dr Daszak’s at EcoHealth Alliance, was also conspicuous in his absence.
The third, Professor Bernard Roizman, a virologist at the University of Chicago who has four honorary professorships at Chines universities, also previously reversed course.
He said in May he was ‘convinced’ the virus was brought to a lab before being accidentally leaked.
He told the Wall Street Journal: ‘I’m convinced that what happened is the virus was brought to a lab, they started to work with it and some sloppy individual brought it out.
‘They can’t admit they did something so stupid.’
Professor Palese declined to comment on the latest letter. Dr Karesh and Professor Roizman were approached by MailOnline for comment.
It comes after it was revealed last month that China wiped dozens of test samples from patients in epicentre Wuhan from an international database used to track the virus’ evolution.
The files could have provided vital clues about how the virus originated and how long it had been spreading before the seafood market outbreak in December 2019.
The American professor who spotted their deletion and managed to recover some of the data said they suggested Covid was circulating long before China’s official timeline.
He found the early samples of the virus were more evolved than would be expected of a pathogen that had recently jumped from animals to humans — but did not say it gave more weight to the ‘lab leak’ theory.
Professor Jesse Bloom, a virologist from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said he believed China had removed the files to ‘obscure their existence’.
British scientists told MailOnline the findings confirm Covid was spreading in people before being linked to wet markets, ‘perhaps months before’.