International scientists on Saturday released two major studies which one participant said made it “extraordinarily clear” a market in Wuhan, China, was the source of the coronavirus which caused the Covid-19 pandemic – and not a Chinese government laboratory, a theory championed in the US by rightwing campaigners, columnists and politicians.
The question of where Covid-19 came from and how it spread has proved divisive.
According to Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, after two years the global death toll stands at more than 5.9m, the caseload at 433.7m.
The same sources say more than 947,000 people have died of Covid in the US, from a caseload of nearly 79m.
In August last year, a US intelligence review of the issue proved inconclusive.
The New York Times first reported the new studies, which it said had not been published in any journal.
Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona and a co-author on both studies, told the paper: “When you look at all of the evidence together, it’s an extraordinarily clear picture that the pandemic started at the Huanan market.”
The one-sentence summary of one study said: “Geographical clustering of the earliest known Covid-19 cases and the proximity of positive environmental samples to live-animal vendors suggest that the Huanan seafood wholesale market in Wuhan was the site of origin of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
In the abstract to the other study, scientists said: “Understanding the circumstances that lead to pandemics is critical to their prevention.”
However, the issue of Chinese culpability or otherwise has become both diplomatically sensitive and highly politicised, particularly in the US.
Particularly visibly, Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to Joe Biden, has clashed repeatedly with Republican senators prominently including Rand Paul of Kentucky, a champion of the lab origin theory.
In July 2021, Paul grilled Fauci about “gain of function” research on viruses in Chinese laboratories, and whether US funding of such research might have contributed to the Covid pandemic.
Fauci replied: “Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly. And, I want to say that officially. You do not know what you are talking about.”
The two clashed again in January this year, Fauci accusing Paul of fundraising off his attacks and “kindling the crazies”, instigating threats to him and his family.
The studies released on Saturday were co-authored by scientists in the US, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, the UK (Oxford, Edinburgh and Glasgow), Canada, the Netherlands and Belgium.