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COVID Origins: New Information and Declassifying Documents

Access to essential data, documentation, and other information can prove helpful in accurately determining the origins of COVID-19. Currently, the source of the coronavirus is not yet completely known. 

However, a new study supports linking the virus to infected animals in a Wuhan, China, market. These new findings and the recent declassification of several U.S. intelligence documents will potentially shed more light on where and how the COVID spread began. 

Investigating the Origins of COVID-19 

In December 2019, the first COVID cases emerged from Wuhan, China. Experts theorized that the virus originated from live animals bought and sold in local wet markets. Since 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other agencies have worked to understand the origins of COVID. 

Early investigations led to the development of widely circulating theories, one of which is the natural origin hypothesis. It suggests that the coronavirus came from bats and other animals directly or indirectly infecting humans at a wet market in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. 

Another explanation points to a possible accidental lab leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, where scientists were allegedly using bats to study the coronavirus as a potential bioweapon. The U.S. Department of Energy conducted an intelligence study that supports this conclusion. More theories abound, including the one that claims that the alleged lab leak was not accidental but a deliberate attempt to infect citizens surrounding the Wuhan area. 

Recent Revelations 

To date, there has been no definitive conclusion on the origins of COVID. Nevertheless, there have been new developments based on the analysis of data from the Chinese government uploaded to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID). 

International researchers studied genetic sequences found in over 1,000 animal and environmental samples in January 2020 from a Wuhan market, the first known source of the COVID outbreak. Genetic material from raccoon dogs and other animals was present in the samples testing positive for COVID-19. 

The findings from this study are part of the first peer-reviewed report on possible sources of the coronavirus. Although it still does not provide absolute proof, this study asserts that these samples are the most likely pathways of the disease, lending more support to the natural origin hypothesis. 

On the heels of the publicizing of these findings, the WHO continues to urge the Chinese government to release more information they have related to the outbreak. Instead, the GISAID data previously uploaded by China’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were taken down last March. The GISAID, which scientists from across the globe can access, reports that these COVID-related data are currently unavailable due to system updates. The findings have not yet been published, but the international researchers conducting the study recently presented their results to the WHO’s Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens. 

Scientists associated with China’s CDC claim that the new study’s findings still fall short of definitive proof. Some claim that the samples were collected one month after the animal-to-human transmissions supposedly occurred. Others argue that the new results suggest that COVID-19 originated outside of China. 

Declassification of Intelligence Documents 

Last March, with bipartisan support from the U.S. Senate and House, President Biden signed a bill that calls on the Director of National Intelligence to declassify any intelligence documents related to or alluding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. The new law permits redactions that originally protected sensitive sources, some of which draw “potential links” between the research at the Wuhan Institute and the COVID outbreak. 

U.S. intelligence agencies differ in their conclusions of COVID-19’s sources. Most experts worldwide assert that it may take years to uncover the true origins of the coronavirus. In support of continued investigations that include an upcoming House hearing, Biden pledged to declassify any information necessary while still upholding his “constitutional authority to protect against the disclosure of information that would harm national security.” 

Importance of Understanding the Origin of COVID-19 

Since its initial spread in late 2019, COVID-19 has evolved into several variants, killing people globally. The WHO continues to press China for information they may have on COVID’s origins. They also stress that experts should consider all plausible explanations in continued investigations into where and how the virus first appeared. 

Investigating the origin of COVID-19 is essential to understanding how the spread of the virus led to the now three-year-old pandemic. Finding the source of the virus can help researchers and public health experts learn to mitigate its future impacts and prevent subsequent ones. Understanding its origins can also help experts anticipate the effects of future viral outbreaks. 

Research and materials for this article were compiled, written, and distributed on behalf of the National Public Health Information Coalition. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the various authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Public Health Information Coalition or its members.