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Scientific expert claims ‘zero’ evidence for natural COVID-19 origin

A panel of scientists held a fierce debate Tuesday over whether COVID-19 emerged from a laboratory accident or spread naturally from animals to humans, with one expert declaring there is “zero evidence” of a natural outbreak of the pandemic that has claimed millions of lives worldwide.

“The evidence is overwhelming that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, entered humans through a laboratory accident,” Dr. Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University, said in his opening statement to the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Ebright, who along with Dr. Steven Quay, a former professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, advocates of the so-called “lab leak hypothesis,” added that there is “zero hard evidence of a natural origin for COVID-19.”

“There is zero hard evidence of a natural origin for COVID-19,” Dr. Richard Ebright testified. Homeland Security

“Based on these characteristics, there’s a one in a million chance that this actually came from nature,” Quay agreed.

COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China, more than 800 miles from the “nearest bat carrying live SARS-CoV-2 virus, which may have been the source of its origin,” he noted.

The now-disbarred Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) carried out US-funded gain-of-function research on SARS-like bat viruses between 2014 and 2021.

During that study period, the WIV conducted “the world’s largest research program on bat SARS viruses” and held “the world’s largest collection of bat SARS viruses,” Ebright added.

At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, scientists fiercely debated whether the COVID-19 pandemic emerged from a lab accident or jumped naturally from animals to humans. Homeland Security

Additionally, the Rutgers professor said the Wuhan lab experimented with the SARS virus “with high pandemic potential” four years before COVID-19, and just a year before that it was working on a genetically modified SARS virus that “matched the characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 in detail.”

The study was funded by a more than $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to the now-defunct Manhattan-based public health nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, of which about $500,000 went directly to the WIV.

EcoHealth lost its status as a federal grant recipient after it potentially violated biosafety standards in a WIV project titled “Understanding the Risk of Emerging Bat Coronaviruses” and failed to immediately report experiments that produced an engineered virus that was 10,000-fold more infectious.

The now-disbarred Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) carried out US-funded gain-of-function research on SARS-like bat viruses between 2014 and 2021. Reuters

EcoHealth, led by Dr. Peter Daszak, denies that the experiments constitute gain-of-function research, even though NIH Executive Vice Director Dr. Lawrence Tabak testified last month that they do.

“Scientists who rely on NIH or NIAID funding may feel pressured to publicly subscribe to orthodox thinking, such as opposing that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from the lab,” Quay said in his opening remarks.

This implicated one of the committee’s other witnesses, Dr. Robert Ghaly, who received funding from the NIH and wrote a controversial scientific paper in early 2020 at the urging of then-National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci that denied the lab leak claim.

“Scientists who rely on NIH or NIAID funding may feel pressured to publicly subscribe to orthodox thinking, such as opposing that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from the lab,” Quay said in his opening remarks. Homeland Security

In his opening remarks, Ebright noted that the paper, titled “The Proximate Origin of SARS-CoV-2,” was published as an “opinion article” in March 2020, is not supported by available evidence, and has been completely refuted by the authors’ “private correspondence” published by the House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on COVID-19 last year.

“Four of the authors of that paper have clearly indicated in private communications that they knew the conclusions stated in the paper were invalid,” he said.

Ebright added that scientists have twice called for the paper to be retracted, and that the authors have suggested “scientific misconduct” and possible fraud.

“We believe the available evidence indicates that the release occurred naturally, likely at the seafood market in Wuhan, China,” Dr. Robert Garry testified. Homeland Security

Ghaly, a professor and vice dean at the 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 at the Senate hearing.

“I firmly believe that the available evidence indicates that the release likely occurred naturally at the seafood market in Wuhan, China,” Ghaly testified, but did not immediately explain what evidence led to that conclusion.

When questioned further, the Tulane professor acknowledged he “doesn’t know” whether the virus was in the University of Wisconsin building, but said there was “no evidence from China to say either way.”

Gregory Koblentz noted that while US intelligence agencies are “divided” on the origins of COVID-19, the theory that it was “intentionally developed as a biological weapon” has been unanimously rejected by all US intelligence agencies. Homeland Security

“I am first and foremost a scientist and I adhere to the scientific method, so since speaking with you all, I will continue to evaluate the evidence and reevaluate the validity of my scientific hypotheses about origins,” Ghaly told committee members, later adding that he still stands by his 2020 paper arguing against a lab leak.

“Natural spillovers have multiple markets,” Quay has noted elsewhere, pointing to the SARS virus, which began spreading in China in 2002.

Koblentz noted that US intelligence agencies are “divided” on the origins of COVID-19, but that the idea that it was “intentionally developed as a biological weapon” has been unanimously rejected by all US intelligence agencies.

AP

The unusually bipartisan congressional investigation into the origins of COVID was chaired by Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the committee’s chairman, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the ranking committee member who is also a physician.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the worst public health crises our nation has ever faced,” Peters said in his opening statement. “We have lost more than one million Americans to the virus. … Today’s hearing is intended to examine the available scientific evidence about the virus.”

“It is unlikely that the Chinese government will ever release all the information it has about the early COVID-19 outbreak, so we must use the scientific information available to prepare for any potential future pandemics,” Peters said.

In his opening remarks, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) emphasized the “inner skepticism” of many who oppose the theory of radioactive material leaking from the lab, and they denigrate those who are skeptical of the natural origin theory as “conspiracy theorists.” AP

In his opening remarks, Paul highlighted the “inner doubts” of many of those opposed to the lab leak, who have denigrated those skeptical of a natural origin as “conspiracy theorists.”

“The cover-up did not end with official statements; federal agencies and key officials continued to conceal critical information from both Congress and the public,” Paul said, thanking Peters for helping lead the committee hearing.

“HHS and NIH have not provided any documentation related to gain-of-function studies that the chairman and I requested over a year ago,” he added, “and they continue to resist.”

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