The first of a series of public hearings held by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic to investigate the origins of COVID-19, which has infected over 750 million people worldwide, sought to give weight to all possible scenarios and explore each possibility without bias.
The necessity of such an endeavor was explicitly put forth by committee chair Brad Wenstrup, a Republican representative from Ohio, in his opening statement. He said, "This question is fundamental to helping us predict and prevent future pandemics, protecting our health and national security, and preparing the United States for the future."
Jamie Metzl, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington DC-based international affairs think tank; Dr. Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Nicholas Wade, a former science editor for the New York Times were the three witnesses called by the GOP to speak to the committee. Paul Auwaerter, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, was the sole invitee of the Democrats.
We present here the key insights from the hearing.
#1. Defintion Of Gain Of Function
As the pandemic raged, all eyes were on China, where the first cases were reported. As doctors scrambled to treat the hordes of patients, the world caught up with terminologies such as "pathogens," "incubation period," and "gain of function."
#2. Did Wuhan Institute Of Virology Conduct Gain Of Function Research?
Even though the U.S. has banned "gain of function" research in the country, some in the scientific community point to the potential or possible benefits as reasons to continue pushing the frontiers of science, but, as the Covid-19 pandemic has shown, playing god could cost humanity dearly.
#3. Did Chinese Scientists Have A Hand In Engineering The Virus?
Giving further credence to the lab leak theory, which is gaining in popularity each day, Dr. Redfield put forth reasons to suspect that Chinese scientists and biologists had a hand in engineering a virus with capabilities not found in the natural world. He said, "...when you look at coronaviruses for SARS and MERS, for example, when they entered the human species, which they did via an intermediate, they never learned how to go human to human."
Over the past three years, the world has looked to the scientific community and institutions like the World Health Organization for answers. China's calculated actions have thwarted such efforts to conduct a fair, systematic, and scientific probe by the international community. Without access to the sites and crucial data, virologists and other experts found their hands tied.
#4. Reliance On The Intelligence Community Than The Scientific Community For Answers On Origin
But, at the committee hearing, Redfield made a telling observation. He said, "What is the origin? I don't think that answer is going to come from the scientific community. I think that answer is going to come from the intelligence community."
Recently the Energy Department concluded with "low confidence" that the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic was most likely the result of a lab leak. The former director of the CDC shed light on why many in the scientific community believe that the coronavirus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.
#5. The Three Events Of September 2019
The events and activities carried out at the biomedical facility in Wuhan in September 2019 pose questions about what the Chinese are trying to keep under wraps. The deletion of scientific data and the change of command (handing over the civilian facility to the military) necessitate explanations.
#6. Politicization Of Virus Origin
Much points to the hypothesis, dubbed a "conspiracy theory" by the Chinese, that the pandemic-causing virus infected humans through a possible lab leak. Unfortunately, the origins of the coronavirus that caused over six million deaths worldwide have become politicized.
Silencing debate, excluding opposing points of view, or covering up funding of labs are unlikely to lead to the desired outcome – the truth about how a "virus too infectious for humans" caused a pandemic that almost brought the world to a standstill.
As Metzl cautioned during the hearing, "China must be the primary focus." He added, "If we make it primarily about Dr. Fauci, we will be inappropriately serving the Chinese government a propaganda coup on a silver platter."
As the first epicenter of the infection, China holds the key to many answers. Beijing may successfully prevent the scientific community from conducting a systematic investigation. But, as Dr. Redfield pointed out, the intelligence agencies may find answers to the pressing questions.
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