China continues to be under a cloud over the origin of the coronavirus with the latest report from the United States claiming that the deadly pathogen was indeed leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic. The onus is now on Beijing to clear the air once and for all and come clean on the widespread allegations of obfuscation, suppression of facts and stonewalling a fair and impartial probe. Greater clarity on the origin of the virus, which has already claimed over 4.4 million lives and shattered the global economy, is necessary to formulate appropriate strategies to tackle the health crisis and mitigate the risk of future pandemic outbreaks. A US Republican report cited ample evidence that Wuhan Institute of Virology scientists were working to modify coronaviruses to infect humans and such manipulation could be hidden. The report, which is based on open-source material, has called for further bipartisan investigations to ferret out the facts. It relies on a set of new and under-reported information about safety protocols at the lab, including a July 2019 request for a $1.5-million overhaul of a hazardous waste treatment system for the facility, which was less than two years old. Several independent scientists and experts have been working on data to expose the inconsistencies in the official Chinese versions of the pandemic outbreak. It has emerged that the lab was conducting “gain of function” research — a controversial medical research where scientists genetically modify a bacteria or virus to make it more infectious to study better preventative measures.
The international community must be united in its efforts to discipline China for failing to quickly alert the world to the virus outbreak and its ongoing obstruction to the investigation into the origins of the virus. The lab leak theory is based on the idea that the virus may have emerged from the Wuhan scientific lab either due to a series of missteps and lax safety procedures or military tampering. A joint investigation, carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO) and China earlier, had failed to clear doubts among a section of the scientific community. The information, data, and samples for that study were collected and summarised by a team of Chinese scientists. The rest of the team only built on this analysis, which found no clear evidence either to support a natural spillover or a lab accident. In fact, the team’s mandate did not include any lab investigations but only data collection. Even before the WHO report was released in March, reports said that the global health body had ceded control of the investigation to China. For too long, Beijing had tried to stall international investigations into the origin of the virus.
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