Chinese officials are contesting a report linking the origins of the Covid pandemic to raccoon dogs.
The disputed findings were first reported in March by scientists who suggested that raccoon dogs — fuzzy fox-like mammals — sold at a Wuhan market in late 2019 carried the coronavirus.
Some of the researchers behind the report, including Dr. Kristian Andersen and Dr. Robert Garry, are close confidants of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who oversaw US research into pathogenic diseases when the pandemic broke out.
The report dismissed any validity to the hypothesis that Covid escaped from a Wuhan biolab, a theory that Chinese officials have soundly rejected. But many experts have cast doubt on the findings, saying they merely prove that raccoon dogs were present on the market.
Now a former Chinese government official claims there is no evidence to show which animal, including raccoon dogs, may have first housed the pandemic-causing coronavirus before it infected humans.
Dr. George Gao, former head of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday that there is no evidence yet to show which animal the COVID-causing virus may have come from.
The question of whether the global outbreak started with an overflow of wildlife sold at the market or leaked from the Wuhan lab just eight miles across the Yangtze River has sparked fierce debates about how to contain the next pandemic. prevent. New studies point to a natural overflow in the Huanan game market. Positive smears from floors, cages and counters also track the virus back to stalls in the southwest corner of the market (bottom left), where animals with the potential to harbor Covid were sold for meat or fur at the time (bottom right)
Dr. Gao said at the Rhodes Policy Summit in London on Friday: “Even now people think that some animals are the host or the reservoir. Long story short, there is no evidence of which animals (were) where the virus came from.”
The Chinese government has been criticized for repeatedly thwarting efforts by international scientists to uncover the cause of the global pandemic that has killed at least 6.8 million people.
In the March report, animals were present just before the samples were collected, making them a potential vessel for transmitting the virus to humans.
The authors of the March study said their findings of genetic evidence of Covid near animal stalls at the market supported their theory that wildlife harbored the virus before it eventually mutated to the point where it became contagious to humans.
Scientists have not made the raw data available with their pre-print report, making it impossible for independent experts to fact-check their findings.
The study began when Dr. Florence Débarre, of France’s National Center for Scientific Research, came across genetic sequences uploaded into a database by Chinese scientists.
Researchers have downloaded the data in hopes of examining it as part of their search for the origins of Covid.
However, it was taken down by the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency headed by Dr. Gao.
Investigators later learned that the data was uploaded on June 22, 2022, but not made public.
It was also used for a pre-print report revealed by Chinese scientists in February 2022
It was removed from the database on March 11. This research team had already downloaded it.
While the highly anticipated report made headlines, experts have argued that detecting a genetic trace left by animals in the same place where samples of the virus were detected is not a smoking gun.
Scientists have said the findings do not provide definitive evidence that Covid passed from animals to humans during a spillover event.
The study took swabs from market carts that were found to contain more than 4,500 fragments of raccoon dog genetic material in addition to coronavirus genetic signatures.
Their data also revealed positive Covid specimens from mammals such as the Malayan porcupine, the Amur hedgehog, the masked civet and the gray bamboo rat.
But the raccoon dogs made up more than 80 percent of the DNA and RNA detected.
Investigators identified stalls in the southwest corner of the market where Covid is most prevalent. Much of the Covid samples collected in the area were from raccoon dogs, they determined
The study’s authors said, “After the initial spillovers occurred, the market likely became a site of widespread human-to-human transmission.”
Raccoon dogs act as intermediate hosts for the virus — meaning they capture pathogens from the wild and harbor it without getting sick themselves.
There is a risk that they could spread viruses to humans – or any other animal they come into contact with.
The research team claims that Covid and the raccoon dog specimens being detected in the same spot are too creepy to be a coincidence.
Proponents of the theory that Covid escaped from a high-security biolab in Wuhan that studies coronaviruses, one that used to be portrayed as a xenophobic conspiracy, were skeptical of the findings.
Dr. Richard Ebright, a microbiologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told DailyMail.com at the time that the new research added “little to the discussion” about the origins of Covid and necessitated “extreme caution”.
Last month, FBI Director Christpher Wray confirmed that the agency believed the lab leak theory with “moderate confidence.” Other intelligence services are less certain.
Four agencies and the National Intelligence Council concluded with “little confidence” that Covid stemmed from a natural spillover event.
Dr. Kristian Andersen, a Danish biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, was one of the authors of the March report.
He rose to prominence in 2021 when emails between him and Dr Anthony Fauci were revealed to the public discussing how the virus may have developed early in the pandemic.
Dr. Andersen was also the lead author of a February 2020 article that some said was intended to quell the theory that Covid may have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). That paper, now infamous, was titled “Proximal Origin.”
Dr. Garry, a microbiologist at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, is also an author.
Dr. Garry was also involved in discussions early in the pandemic about the possible synthetic nature of the virus, and on a phone call with Dr Andersen and Dr Fauci, which reportedly discussed how to fix the lab leak.
Dr. Garry told DailyMail.com last month, “There is absolutely no lab leak scenario consistent with this data.
“It’s time to nail up the coffin of all the lab conspiracy theories and give this long-dead corpse a proper burial.”
DailyMail.com also contacted Dr. Andersen for comment.