Speed Reads

COVID-19 origins

Why a COVID-19 origin task force is disbanding

Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University professor who has chaired a COVID-19 commission affiliated with The Lancet scientific journals, told The Wall Street Journal that he's disbanding a task force of scientists probing the coronavirus' origins. He reached the decision because the group was linked too closely with the New York-based non-profit EcoHealth Alliance, which has been scrutinized by scientists and lawmakers due to its use of U.S. funds to study bat coronaviruses with the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

EcoHealth alliance's president Peter Daszak, who has been a vocal opponent of the theory that the virus escaped from a lab, led the task force until he recused himself in June. But Sachs thought it was better to end the whole thing since other members had also collaborated with Daszak on other projects, although one member told the Journal there was no conflict of interest. Going forward, Sachs' commission will continue to study the origins of the virus, and the goal is to publish a report on the findings by mid-2022, but there will be a shift in the focus of the research. Now, the Journal reports, it will look at the broader issue of "biosafety concerns including government oversight and transparency regarding risky laboratory research." Sachs clarified that he doesn't favor any particular COVID-19 origin theory.

It's been a busy week for the debate lab leak-natural spillover debate. First, The Intercept shedding light on a leaked 2018 grant proposal from EcoHealth Alliance, which detailed what some scientists consider high-risk coronavirus research. Meanwhile, a preprint of a study revealed that scientists found three viruses in Laos that are more similar to the COVID-19 coronavirus than any other known pathogen, which some scientists argue boosts the natural origin theory. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.