A group of scientists and doctors reaffirmed their belief that the SARS-CoV-2 virus evolved in nature while urging others to "turn down the heat of the rhetoric and turn up the light of scientific inquiry."
The letter, which was published in The Lancet on Monday, is the second such to be published by the group, which includes physicians, veterinarians, epidemiologists, virologists, biologists, ecologists and public health experts from around the world.
The first letter, published in Feb. 2020, faced scrutiny after one of the authors, Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance and member of The Lancet’s COVID-19 Commission, did not disclose competing interests. Daszak has since updated his disclosure statement to include information regarding EcoHealth’s work in China.
The group had first written to express support and solidarity with health care workers and scientists in China, and said that recently many members had received inquiries "asking whether we still support what we said in early 2020."
"The answer is clear: we reaffirm our expression of solidarity with those in China who confronted the outbreak then, and the many health professionals around the world who have since worked to exhaustion, and at personal risk, in the relentless and continuing battle against the virus. Our respect and gratitude have only grown with time."
Since the first letter, which also addressed the potential origin of the coronavirus, a World Health Organization-led investigation into the virus received much scrutiny over its inconclusive results. Calls for further investigation into a lab-leak theory have grown in recent months, as has a more independent investigation into the virus’ origin.
In their initial letter, the group said they had intended to "express our working view that SARS-CoV-2 most likely originated in nature and not in a laboratory," which was based off genetic analysis of the new virus and established evidence of previous emerging infectious diseases.
"The critical question we must address now is, how did SARS-CoV-2 reach the human population?" the group wrote in the most recent letter. "This is important because it is such insights that will drive what the world must urgently do to prevent another tragedy like COVID-19. We believe the strongest clue from new, credible and peer-reviewed evidence in the scientific literature is that the virus evolved in nature, while suggestions of a laboratory-leak source of the pandemic remain without scientifically validated evidence that directly supports it in peer-reviewed scientific journals."
The group called for "scientifically rigorous investigations, and said "allegations and conjecture are of no help, as they do not facilitate access to information and objective assessment of the pathway from a bat virus to a human pathogen that might help prevent a future pandemic."
They also urged international cooperation and collaboration, and said withholding data and information "will not make us safer."
"At the very least, we owe it to all who have suffered from COVID-19, as well as our families and the global community, to work collaboratively to end the pandemic and support international efforts to ensure vaccine equity, even as we prepare for the next pandemic," they said.