German scientist claims COVID-19 leaked from lab

From bat-to-human transmission to frozen food, 14 months on from beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak and scientists are still scrambling to find the origins of the virus. Picture: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases / AFP.
More than 14 months after COVID-19 started infecting the world, a German scientist believes he’s cracked the mystery of where it came from. 

German scientist Dr Roland Wiesendanger claims he is “99.9 per cent sure” COVID-19 was leaked from a lab.

The physicist from the University of Hamburg published a 100-page paper which reasons the virus was leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Throughout the paper he cites evidence including the fact that an animal host has yet to be discovered, concern over the lab’s safety protocols and the Institute’s focus on ‘gain-of-function’ research which looks at how they can make viral pathogens more deadly or infectious. This kind of research is also conducted by other international labs and sometimes used to help governments better prepare for potential outbreaks.

In his paper, Dr Wiesendanger also raises concerns that COVID-19’s ability to “couple surprisingly well to human cell receptors and penetrate human cells” is the result of special cell receptor binding domains which was previously unobserved in other coronaviruses.

Despite this, it should be noted that Dr Wiesendanger’s field of expertise is not in virology. Specialising in nanoscience, this type of science analyses atoms and subatomic particles to create new materials and can be applied to biology, chemistry, materials science and physics. His research has also been criticised by the wider scientific community, including scientists from the World Health Organisation (WHO) who state the theory that COVID-19 was leaked from a lab is “highly unlikely”.

Therefore it is not a hypothesis we suggest to support for our future work, said WHO team leader Peter Ben Embarek.

Earlier this month the international health body released a report documenting their independent investigation into how the virus emerged in Wuhan, China. Investigators said they believed the virus was likely active for weeks outside the city’s wet market for weeks before the initial cases were detected. They also couldn’t find an animal origin for the virus, discounting the former leading theory that the virus was transmitted by a bat, pangolin or other wild animal. Despite this, they concluded that an infected animal was still the most likely transmission point, and called for more analysis to be taken from felines and other species.

However, he is not alone in believing the lab leak theory. In a statement to NBC News, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said US intelligence agencies are still investigating multiple theories as to the origins of COVID-19.

(We) will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.

In order to discover the origins of the pandemic other world leaders have called for a global ‘pandemic treaty’ in which all countries would be agree to share data about virus outbreaks and infectious diseases. Among its supports are UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and the president of the European Council, Charles Michel.

This comes as China came under fire for preventing doctors in Wuhan for speaking about the transmissibility of COVID-19 in December 2019, and for failing to acknowledge the disease’s ability of human-to-human transmission while the pandemic was in its infancy.

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