Minority staff for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee have released an interim report on the origins of the COVID-19 virus. The 35-page report argues that a lab leak is the most likely explanation for the origin of the virus.

Although the report favors the “lab leak” origin, it does not rule out a market origin. The report also does not indulge the more provocative arguments for how SARS-CoV-2 entered the human population. There is no claim that the virus was engineered as a bioweapon, for example.

Nor does it mention Anthony S. Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has been a frequent target of Paul and other lab-leak proponents because his institute helped fund virus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The full report is here. It does offer a review of both possibilities but heavily favors the lab leak view. Here’s a section on why the authors believe the lab leak is more likely.

Nearly three years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, substantial evidence demonstrating that the COVID-19 pandemic was the result of a research-related incident has emerged. A research-related incident is consistent with the early epidemiology showing rapid spread of the virus in Wuhan, with the earliest calls for assistance being located in the near the WIV’s original campus in central Wuhan. It also explains the low genetic diversity of the earliest known SARS-CoV-2 human infections in Wuhan, because the likely index case, would be an infected researcher, is the likely primary source of the virus in Wuhan. A research-related incident also explains the failure to find an intermediate host as well as the failure to find any animal infections pre-dating human COVID-19 cases…

d. Anomalies in Epidemiology of SARS-COV-2 Outbreak

  • SARS-CoV-2 spilled over into humans only in Wuhan.222 This is a break with the precedent of SARS, MERS, and multiple outbreaks of avian influenza, all of which were much less transmissible than SARS-CoV-2 and infected fewer animals.
  • The low genetic diversity of the earliest SARS-CoV-2 samples, coupled with one of the two early lineages being more closely related to bat coronaviruses, suggests that COVID-19 pandemic is most likely the result of one, or at most two, spillovers of SARS-CoV-2.223 SARS-CoV-2’s low initial genetic diversity is also a break with the precedent of recent zoonotic spillovers of respiratory viruses.
  • Critical corroborating evidence of a natural zoonotic spillover is missing. While the absence of evidence is not itself evidence, the lack of corroborating evidence of a zoonotic spillover or spillovers, three years into the pandemic, is highly problematic. If the COVID-19 pandemic is the result of the zoonotic spillover of SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan from an intermediate host species, there should be evidence of SARS-CoV-2 circulating in animals before it spilled over into humans. Instead, there is no evidence that any animal was infected with SARS-CoV-2 prior to the first human cases.

The conclusion states:

Based on the analysis of the publicly available information, it appears reasonable to conclude that the COVID-19 pandemic was, more likely than not, the result of a research-related incident. New information, made publicly available and independently verifiable, could change this assessment. However, the hypothesis of a natural zoonotic origin no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt, or the presumption of accuracy. The following are critical outstanding questions that would need to be addressed to be able to more definitively conclude the origins of SARS-CoV-2:

  • What is the intermediate host species for SARS-CoV-2? Where did it first infect humans?
  • Where is SARS-CoV-2’s viral reservoir?
  • How did SARS-CoV-2 acquire its unique genetic features, such as its furin cleavage site?

Advocates of a zoonotic origin theory must provide clear and convincing evidence that a natural zoonotic spillover is the source of the pandemic, as was demonstrated for the 2002-2004 SARS outbreak. In other words, there needs to be verifiable evidence that a natural zoonotic spillover actually occurred, not simply that such a spillover could have occurred.

Scientists who published studies which favored the natural spillover theory earlier this year have already denounced the report as wrong.

Michael Worobey, a professor at the University of Arizona who co-authored both studies published in Science, said the new GOP report “gets the science completely wrong.”

“As the saying goes, when you mix science and politics, you get politics,” he said.

Worobey said the hypothesis of some kind of laboratory incident was worth investigating, and he was among the scientists who wrote a letter to Science in May 2021 arguing that all possible origins should be probed. But he said his investigations and those of other scientists point to a market origin…

Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan and co-author of one of the Science papers, dismissed the new GOP report as “speculative hand-waving” and views it as a partisan document.

“This is in service of trying to set up something that would be politically advantageous for one party,” she said. “It’s to make it easier to have essentially show trials for people’s adversaries, which has unfortunately come to include scientists.”

They may be right about the origin but I think they’d be more convincing if they sounded more like scientists and less like politicians worrying about whose ox is getting gored.

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