The Guardian view on how Covid began: look to the future | Editorial
The row over whether the pandemic started with a lab leak is growing. But the most important question is what we do now
We may never know for certain how a disease that brought the world to a standstill and has killed almost 7 million people emerged. While many experts believe that Covid-19 arose through human contact with infected animals, most likely via a wet market in Wuhan, China, a significant number believe it probably escaped from the city’s Institute of Virology. Others retain an open mind . But politics has turbocharged a scientific question. Donald Trump hyped the lab leak theory without evidence ; yet some scientists fear that, in the haste to challenge xenophobic buck-passing that was fuelling anti-Asian hate crime, others may have been too quick to dismiss entirely a genuine possibility.
The simmering, rancorous debate began heating up again late last month when it emerged that the US Department of Energy had concluded , though with “low confidence”, that a lab escape was probably to blame. The FBI agrees, while four other US agencies blame natural spillover and two – including the CIA – remain undecided . Then, a new analysis of gene sequences taken from swabs from the market showed that some Covid-positive samples were rich in DNA from raccoon dogs , bolstering the case that it began through infected animals sold at the site. As the row gathers pace, Joe Biden has ordered the release of intelligence on the pandemic’s origins.