French scientists join group calling for inquiry into Covid origins

More than 30 international experts have written an open letter calling for a detailed inquiry and pleading for China to cooperate. They say without this a similar disaster could happen again

29 June 2021
View through magnifying glass on map with focus on China and blood sample vial covid-19. French scientists join group calling for inquiry into Covid origins

The open letter details two options for an inquiry: The first includes cooperation from the Chinese government; the second does not Pic: Ralf Liebhold / Shutterstock

By Hannah Thompson

A group of international scientists have written an open letter, published in France, calling for an inquiry into the origins of the virus that causes Covid-19, “so that we can avoid it happening again”.

The letter, signed by 31 scientists and published in Le Figaro, calls for a “complete inquiry...if possible, with the participation of the Chinese government”.

The letter is the fourth calling for an inquiry into the origins of the pandemic published this year.

Signatories include doctors, scientific researchers, and professors from across the world, including France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, New Zealand, India, Australia, the US, Canada, and Japan.

French signatories include: 

Jacques van Helden, professor at Aix-Marseille Université; Francois Graner, biophysicist and CNRS research director at the Université de Paris; José Halloy, sustainability and physics professor, at the Université de Paris; and Virginie Courtier, evolutionary geneticist and research director at the Institut Jacques Monod at the CNRS in Paris.

In May this year, Ms Courtier told The Connexion: “We still have no idea whether SARS-CoV-2 has a totally natural origin or if the virus went into a laboratory and there was an accident.”

Read more: It is vital to identify the origin of Covid-19, says geneticist

This new letter follows a declaration by WHO director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said on June 12: “More than 174m people have been confirmed for Covid illness…3.75m people have died – this is very tragic.

“I think the respect people deserve is knowing what the origin of this virus is, so we can prevent it from happening again. We need cooperation from the Chinese side, we need transparency to understand and find the origin of this virus.”

Similarly, it comes after leaders of the G7 countries published a group declaration, on June 13, calling for a “phase 2 study on the origins of Covid-19, which is transparent, within a reasonable time frame, led by experts, founded on science, approved by the WHO and also done, as the expert report recommends, in China”.

The new letter reads: “We ask for a new scientific enquiry into all the plausible origin hypothesis, which has unlimited access to all the pertinent files, samples and staff in China, and elsewhere if necessary.

“All people and all nations, including China, have a direct interest in the origin of the pandemic being identified so that our biggest vulnerabilities are protected. It is therefore particularly regrettable that no exhaustive inquiry on all the plausible origins has been undertaken, and that none is planned.

“We believe that the joint study process that the WHO is currently calling for, in its current form, does not satisfy the conditions to be credible due to serious structural gaps.”

The letter goes on to explain these “gaps” in more detail in an appendix.

It continues: “The measures taken by the Chinese government to hide the origins, and stop Chinese experts from sharing certain essential information and detailed data clearly show that the current process, without significant changes, has no chance of putting a complete or credible inquiry in place for all possible scenarios.

“Failure to have an in-depth inquiry into the origins of a pandemic will cause us, and future generations, to run needless risks. That’s why we are calling on leaders across the world to adopt one of two options to guarantee an inquiry that is as comprehensive as possible into the origins of the pandemic.”

Two options suggested

The letter goes on to explain the two options.

The first involves full cooperation from China.

The investigation would be independent, data-based, and look into all plausible options for the origins, including from nature, a farm, a market or a laboratory accident. 

This would be led by a multidisciplinary team of international experts, and would avoid conflicts of interest as much as possible. The experts would be given the means to conduct a complete scientific inquiry, including access to files, data, and samples.

There would be no surveillance by Chinese authorities and translators would be independent.

The letter reads: “We sincerely hope that, for the good of humanity, the Chinese government will join us in such a complete and scientific inquiry process, as an equal partner.”

The second option would be proposed should Chinese authorities decline to cooperate.

This would include a group of nations joining together to coordinate another inquiry, using the available science and data, to investigate as much as possible.

Such entities could include the nations of the G7, the OECD, or other institutions, the letter suggests.

It says: “This inquiry would suffer from a lack of files, and important data from China. [But] a great number of very pertinent details can be collected without the participation of the Chinese authorities.

“Many governmental and individual scientists across the world have already gathered, and started to analyse, significant quantities of pertinent data. 

“A well-organised and concerted effort, free of interference, drawing on all available sources of information and involving a large number of experts, may well end up providing unambiguous evidence supporting one particular hypothesis regarding the origins of the pandemic.”

This study would include tests and analysis of samples, an in-depth analysis of animal trading in China and Southeast Asia, and an analysis of the history of the SARS-Cov-2 viruses to chart its evolution.

The inquiry would also see the cooperation of the US and EU, in terms of sharing documents and data.

The letter states: “We must offer the Chinese government every possibility to participate in this exhaustive enquiry on the origins of the pandemic, but not give it the right to veto whether or not the rest of the world holds as complete an enquiry as possible.

The letter concludes: “The two-option process suggested here encourages China to participate in a full, scientific, and data-driven investigation, if it so chooses, as other countries have already done for zoonotic disease outbreaks and laboratory accidents.

“However, in the unfortunate event that the Chinese government chooses not to join this process, a thorough investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2 will still remain possible, have a realistic chance of success, and should be pursued for the common good.”

 

Wuhan lab defence

The open letter follows comments from Shi Zhengli, director of the Wuhan Virology Institute (WIV) in China, who defended the institute against claims that the virus was released from her laboratory.

She told the New York Times: “How on earth can I show proof of something of which there is no proof?”

The WIV had previously remained silent on the allegations, but rising pressure saw the director comment for the first time on the claims.

Theories on the origins of the virus currently include a laboratory accident or accidental leak, and transmission from animal to human, although no studies have yet proven conclusive.

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