The Trump administration doubled down on its debunked claim COVID-19 is a disease created by Chinese scientists in a government-run biological warfare lab in Wuhan province and isn't a natural mutation carried by horseshoe bats.
The U.S. Department of State on Saturday said it has new information suggesting the COVID-19 pandemic emerged from a Chinese laboratory and not through contact with infected animals. The allegation has been made repeatedly by the Trump administration in its effort to absolve itself of any blame for the COVID-19 pandemic now raging almost out of control throughout the country.
"The virus could have emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, spreading in a pattern consistent with a natural epidemic, according to the state department.
"Alternatively, a laboratory accident could resemble a natural outbreak if the initial exposure included only a few individuals and was compounded by asymptomatic infection."
The state department claimed it's in possession of new evidence claiming researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick in the fall of 2019, before the first identified case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Wuhan in December 2020. It said the researchers taken sick exhibited symptoms consistent with a COVID-19 infection.
The terse but unsigned statement making these claims provided no evidence to back up its claims and came only four days before the Trump administration comes to an end on January 20.
A study published in Nature Microbiology in September 2020 based on research by an international team of European, American and Chinese scientists discovered the lineage that gave rise to SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) has been circulating in bats for decades.
The study said SARS-CoV-2 evolved from other bat viruses over the last 40 to 70 years. It pointed out the COVID-19 virus is 96% genetically similar to the RaTG13 coronavirus found in a Rhinolophus affinis Horseshoe bat in 2013 in Yunnan, China. It diverged from RaTG13 back in 1969.
The study finds the lineage that led to SARS-CoV-2 has been circulating unnoticed in bats for decades. SARS-CoV-2 shares a trait with older members of its lineage regarding the receptor-binding domain (RBD) on its spike protein that allows it to bind with human receptor cells. This finding also suggests there are likely other pathogenic viruses capable of crossing over to human hosts.
"This means that other viruses that are capable of infecting humans are circulating in horseshoe bats in China," said Dr. David Robertson, professor of computational virology, MRC-University of Glasgow Center for Virus Research.
The study contradicted earlier research pointing to pangolins as the source of the virus. The RBD sequence of SARS-CoV-2 has so far only been found in a few pangolin viruses.