Letter Requests Information on COVID-19 Origin

A group of scientists who published a letter in a French newspaper asked for an inquiry to determine how the virus emerged.

This story was originally published on Infection Control Today (ICT).

Last year, a group of respected scientists wrote an open letter published in The Lancet and argued that China prevented a delegation from the World Health Organization (WHO) from fully considering a lab leak as a plausible scenario.

Now, another open letter—called the Paris Letter—dated this Wednesday goes even further with a demand for an investigation into a possible lab leak that should be conducted either with or without China’s cooperation. It was written by another group of 30 respected and highly credential scientists, and this time the scientists take direct aim at the country.

“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,” the Paris Letter states. (The letter was sent to Le Figaro, the largest newspaper in France. That account is behind a firewall but another French media outlet, The Connexion, summarizes it here.)

And what if the China stonewalls a thorough investigation into the origin of COVID-19 yet again? Then it’s time to play hardball. The scientists argue that if China doesn’t cooperate, an international investigation be launched by institutions with worldwide clout such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the Group of Seven Industrial Countries (G7).

“A well-organized 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,” the letter states.

They add that 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 analyze, significant quantities of pertinent data.”

The scientists who wrote the letter to The Lancet back in May took pains to acknowledge the brave Chinese scientists and health care experts who tried to get to the bottom of the COVID-19 origin story. The Lancet letter writers also noted the fear that some have that a full investigation might fuel an anti-Asian backlash. 

“Finally, in this time of unfortunate anti-Asian sentiment in some countries, we note that at the beginning of the pandemic, it was Chinese doctors, scientists, journalists, and citizens who shared with the world crucial information about the spread of the virus—often at great personal cost,” the scientists who wrote the open letter to The Lancet stated. “We should show the same determination in promoting a dispassionate science-based discourse on this difficult but important issue.”

The scientists of the Paris Letter also pay homage to the Chinese scientists who want to find the truth. “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,” the Paris Letter states.

In ICT’s report on The Lancet article back in May, Kevin Kavanagh, MD, a member of ICT's Editorial Advisory Board, referred to what he described as a “chilling article” by authors affiliated with China's National Institutes for Food and Drug Control (NIFDC) and WHO Collaborating Center for Standardization and Evaluation of Biologicals.

“This article describes a plethora of single amino acid substitutions in the spike protein from 106 pseudo-virus which resulted in ‘ten mutations such as N234Q, L452R, A475V, and V483A was markedly resistant to some mAbs’ and that ‘the dominant D614G itself and combined with other mutations are more infectious.’”

The D614G variant was the dominant variant in the United States in 2020.