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The Battle Over Covid-19’s Origins

Did the coronavirus jump into people from wild animals at a Chinese market, or was it leaked from a lab? Conclusive proof for either hypothesis remains out of reach. At the same time, stonewalling by China has left scientists with incomplete evidence. And in the U.S., Democrats and Republicans have filtered the available evidence through their partisan lenses. Some Republicans grew fixated on idea of a lab leak after Donald Trump raised it in the early months of the pandemic despite scant evidence. That turned the theory toxic for many Democrats, who viewed it as an effort by Trump to distract from his administration’s failings in containing the spread of the virus. The intense political debate, now in its fourth year, has at times turned scientists into lobbyists, competing for policymakers’ time and favor. Now, some researchers are pushing journalists, policymakers and skeptical Democrats to take the lab leak idea seriously. Recent polls show that roughly two-thirds of Americans believe that Covid probably started in a lab. Findings reported last week bolstered the market theory. Mining a trove of genetic data taken from swabs at a market in Wuhan in early 2020, virus experts said they found samples containing genetic material from both the coronavirus and illegally traded raccoon dogs. The finding, while hardly conclusive, pointed to an infected animal.

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