Backlash as major Covid origins report suggests virus could have leaked from a US lab

The Lancet is facing a backlash after a major Covid-19 Commission report suggested the disease may have leaked from a laboratory in the United States.

Published on Wednesday, the paper said it remains “feasible” that Sars-Cov-2 emerged from either a natural spillover or a laboratory incident, and called for the introduction of more safeguards to reduce the risk of either eventuality. 

But the report, the result of two years of work, also suggested American researchers could be culpable. As well as mentioning facilities in Wuhan, it noted that “independent researchers have not yet investigated” US labs, and said the National Institutes of Health has “resisted disclosing details” of its work. 

The report comes as controversy swirls the commission chair, the economist Prof Jeffrey Sachs.

At a conference in Madrid earlier this year, he said he was “pretty convinced” that Sars-Cov-2 “came out of a US lab of biotechnology, not out of nature” –  a claim that has since been widely promoted by Chinese diplomats. 

In August, Prof Sachs also appeared on a podcast hosted by Robert F Kennedy, Jr – one of the world’s most prominent anti-vaccine commentators – to discuss his beliefs, just days after Instagram and Facebook suspended an account led by Mr Kennedy for repeatedly sharing what the platforms said was Covid misinformation, especially around vaccines

‘Shameful moment’ for Lancet

Experts said Prof Sachs actions have overshadowed much of the robust research and recommendations within the 58-page report, and criticised the Lancet for resisting calls to remove him. 

“Sachs’ appearance on RFK Jr’s podcast… undermines the seriousness of the Lancet Commission’s mission to the point of completely negating it,” said Prof Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Canada. 

“This may be one of the Lancet’s most shameful moments regarding its role as a steward and leader in communicating crucial findings about science and medicine,” she said, adding that she was “pretty shocked at how flagrantly” the report ignores key evidence on Covid origins.

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