Virologist: We will never learn the origin of the coronavirus

Univeristy of Tartu virologist Andres Merits.
Univeristy of Tartu virologist Andres Merits.

Even though the U.S. Department of Energy and the FBI find that the global coronavirus pandemic probably started in a Chinese laboratory, virologist Andres Merits said that even if one were to believe that, it will probably be impossible to determine where it happened.

Merits said that even if one spent a lifetime studying theories according to which the coronavirus escaped a laboratory, there is and probably never will be any sort of proof. "Ties the U.S. Department of Energy has to biology are, of course, also questionable to say the least. We are not dealing with scientific argumentation but rather intelligence," he offered.

The virologist said that it depends on how one talks about the laboratory theory. "What they're saying needs to be absolutely clear. Whether the virus escaped from the laboratory or whether it was created there? Those are two very different things. No agency with a measure of proficiency in biology is claiming the latter. It is undoubtedly a natural, unmanipulated and non-chimerical virus. All conspiracy theories trying to claim the opposite are more or less harebrained. But a "lab leak" is a broader term that could mean the virus was being studied at a lab and was released involuntarily as a result of an accident. This latter possibility cannot be ruled out. The virus was not made in Wuhan, but whether it was released in Wuhan is a matter of what to believe," Merits said.

The scientist rather does not believe the virus escaped from a laboratory. "But I know of such cases. Generally speaking, no one works on natural viruses that do not pose a known threat to humans in maximum security biolabs (such as the one in Wuhan - ed.). It would be both expensive and pointless. Such work takes place in ordinary B2 level laboratories where control over whether an employee could have picked it up is modest to say the least. It is not an exclusive situation," Merits said.

"It is another matter that, personally, I don't believe they were toying with the coronavirus there, while I do believe the virus could have been in the lab as a contamination of another virus of which the scientists may not even have been aware."

The virus initially came from bats, Merits said. "But the intermediary remains a mystery. Viruses do not jump directly from bats to humans and usually need am intermediate host. Finding the latter is not easy because the virus might not stick with the intermediate host. Alternatively, there have been no attempts to find it, or the Chinese did find it but told no one," he explained.

Merits suggested we will never have the full picture of the origin of the Sars-Cov-2 virus. "At best, we will learn of a natural virus that is similar to the coronavirus, even more similar than what we have found in bats. An intermediate host might surface, even though those things are also complicated as the virus also jumped from humans to other animals," Merits said.

A total of 784,302 cases of the coronavirus were diagnosed in Estonia between February 26, 2020, and February 20, 2023 of which 614,848 were confirmed in a laboratory.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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