A US Senate committee report published on Thursday argues that Covid-19 resulted from “a research-related incident”, contrary to the consensus in the scientific community that the virus probably occurred through animal spillover.
“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,” the Senate Health, Education, Labour and Pensions Committee minority staff report claims.
“New information, made publicly available and independently verifiable, could change this assessment.”
The interim report by members of the Republican minority in the Senate was not a bipartisan investigative effort. The party has a track record of minimising the pandemic, leading some to cry foul.
“The whole thing is one big falsehood after another,” Dr Angela Rasmussen, an affiliate at Georgetown University's Centre for Global Health Science and Security and a virologist behind a widely acclaimed report on Covid's origins, tweeted on Thursday.
The report could also be viewed as political, given numerous contentious remarks the Republican members of Congress have made about China's role in the pandemic.
The committee's report stands against a globally held conclusion that Covid-19 came from animal-to-human transmission.
“The hypothesis of a natural zoonotic origin no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt, or the presumption of accuracy,” the report reads.
Four US intelligence agencies in September 2021 said that Covid-19 was probably transmitted from animal to human, while another agency argued the first human infection came from a laboratory.
Following a trip to China, World Health Organisation researchers published reports concluding that the virus initially infected humans through an animal, such as a bat, and that a lab leak was “extremely unlikely”.
“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,” the Senate committee report states.
Finding the origin of the disease is seen as vital to the prevention of future pandemics.