We’re three years into the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic responsible for at least 6.8 million deaths (although the true number may be closer to 15 million), immeasurable suffering and social turmoil, as well as direct and indirect global economic devastation in the order of tens of trillions of US dollars. Just as mask mandates and the remaining COVID-19 restrictions disappear across the globe, the threat of a new global pandemic related to avian influenza lurks on the horizon.

Yet, suddenly, the old polarized and vitriolic discourses on the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have once again erupted.

Specifically trained and continually informed by an abundance of excellent peer-reviewed scientific publications, I attempt to navigate the tensions between the labels “most likely” and “low confidence” while wondering why the Department of Energy (DOE), the FBI and other agencies feel the need to make public statements in the absence of any appreciable, new public information.

Once again, we as a global community are wholly missing the bigger picture. It is widely recognized that zoonotic spillovers, in which pathogens are transmitted between animals and humans, are the leading cause of emerging infectious diseases and recent pandemics. Indeed, the information publicly available to scientists such as myself suggests overwhelmingly that this is how COVID-19 originally spread to people from wildlife sold at a “wet” market in Wuhan, China.

The DOE and the FBI have implied they have specific new information that points to a lab leak. By all means let us see it. If the Chinese government can be faulted for its lack of transparency, let’s show that we can do better. But innuendo and unsourced statements that amount to “trust us” cannot be held out as evidence that in any way matches actual facts documented through rigorous — and open — science.

I agree that we need better national and international laboratory biosafety standards and oversight. These must be paired with frank discussions on responsible and sustainable bioresearch. However, we simply cannot afford to be paralyzed by context-free public rants about biosafety versus biosecurity.

In doing so, we lose sight of the rapidly changing and degrading planet and the ever-increasing interfaces between wildlife, livestock, their pathogens and humans — all caused by relentless human activities and practices.

In the past three years, governments, international forums, multilateral organizations and civil society have widely acknowledged the need to manage health, environmental issues and socio-economic drivers holistically. This recognition has led to a broad consensus that a “one health” framework, which recognizes the interconnectedness between human health, animal health and the environment, must be implemented across sectors and at multiple scales.

Link to article by CHRIS WALZER in The Hill



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