The Daily Telegraph

Lancet in storm over ‘Covid link to US lab’

Medical journal accused of ‘shameful moment’ over role in reporting scientific findings


‘That doesn’t mean there’s any basis to the wild speculatio­n that US labs were involved’

THE Lancet is facing a backlash after a Covid Commission report yesterday suggested the disease may have leaked from a laboratory in the United States.

The paper said it remains “feasible” that Sars-cov-2 emerged from a natural spillover or a laboratory incident, and called for safeguards to cut the risk.

But the report, the result of two years work, also suggested US researcher­s could be culpable. As well as mentioning facilities in Wuhan, China, it noted that “independen­t researcher­s have not yet investigat­ed” US labs, and said the US National Institutes of Health has “resisted disclosing details” of its work.

At a conference in Madrid this year, economist Prof Jeffrey Sachs, the commission chairman, said he was “pretty convinced” that Sars-cov-2 “came out of a US lab of biotechnol­ogy, not out of nature” – a claim widely promoted since by Chinese diplomats.

In August, Prof Sachs appeared on a podcast hosted by Robert F Kennedy Jr, one of the world’s most prominent antivaccin­e commentato­rs, to discuss his beliefs, just days after Instagram and Facebook suspended an account led by Mr Kennedy for sharing what the platforms said was Covid misinforma­tion, especially around vaccines.

Experts said Prof Sachs’ actions have overshadow­ed much of the research and recommenda­tions within the 58-page report, and criticised The Lancet for resisting calls to remove him.

“Sachs’ appearance on RFK Jr’s podcast undermines the seriousnes­s of The Lancet Commission’s mission to the point of negating it,” said Prof Angela Rasmussen, at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organizati­on in Canada.

“This may be one of The Lancet’s most shameful moments regarding its role as a steward and leader in communicat­ing crucial findings about science and medicine,” she said, adding that she was “shocked at how flagrantly” the report ignores key evidence on Covid origins.

Prof David Robertson, director of the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Virus Research, added: “It’s really disappoint­ing to see such a potentiall­y influentia­l report contributi­ng to further misinforma­tion on such an important topic.”

Prof Sachs stood by his previous comments, adding that he “oversaw this part of the work” on the emergence of Sars-cov-2. Last summer he disbanded an initial task force led by Dr Peter Daszak amid concerns it was too biased towards the natural origin hypothesis.

It was never reformed, but Prof Sachs said commission­ers “consulted widely and met with a number of scientists”.

“Everybody has signed off on the final text. The question of a possible laboratory release mostly involves the question of Us-china joint work that was underway on Sars-like viruses,” he said. Prof Robertson added: “We have details to understand on the side of natural origins, for example the exact intermedia­te species involved, but that doesn’t mean there’s any basis to the wild speculatio­n that US labs were involved.”

But Prof Peter Hotez, a member of The Lancet Commission and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, said there had been “diverse views” and that he had “pushed hard on removing” mention of US labs in the report because it was “a distractio­n”.

He added that he had been “speechless” when Prof Sachs appeared on Mr Kennedy’s podcast. Once an economic adviser to the Soviet Union, Prof Sachs also recently sided with Vladimir Putin in his calls to halt Nato enlargemen­t.

He has twice been named in Time magazine’s 100 most influentia­l people and more recently was signed up as an unpaid adviser to Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top foreign diplomat.

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