It’s been 1,086 days since the World Health Organization labelled the global outbreak of COVID-19 a “pandemic,” and there’s still no consensus on the origins of the virus, which may never be known. The ‘animal-to-human’ theory is widely supported by scientists who have studied the virus. But this week, two of the U.S.’s 18 intelligence organizations – the U.S. Energy Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation – shifted their stance on the origins of the virus, revisiting the theory that COVID-19 sprang from a Chinese laboratory. The Energy Department made its assessment with “low confidence” based on classified evidence not available to the public, while the FBI’s conclusion was reportedly drawn with “moderate confidence.” Regardless, the ‘lab-leak’ theory is back in the public eye at a time when the wider world is focused on recovery and the prevention of future outbreaks.
Science, politics mix in debate over origins
China’s foreign ministry said on Monday that “the origins-tracing of SARS-CoV-2 is about science and should not be politicized,” adding the lab-leak theory is “extremely unlikely.” Politicizing the debate over the origins of COVID-19 can impede the discussions that virologists around the world urge governments to have — namely, how do we prevent the next pandemic? Strengthening global health infrastructure and improving information-sharing are just two ways of preventing a repeat of the past three years.
In like a lion, out like a lamb?
While debates over origins simmer, there are signs that COVID-19 itself is losing steam in the Asia Pacific. Singapore did away with a mask requirement on February 13, and Hong Kong’s mask mandate was scrapped on Wednesday. Japan plans to ease its mask-wearing guidelines on March 13. These policies – reopening borders, removing mandates, and getting back to ‘normal’ – point toward a more optimistic end to the COVID-19 saga, while the renewed politicization of COVID-19 is another lesson for the next global health crisis: co-operation is key, and swift, objective investigations into causes benefit all. Further protocols on lab safety around the world, which are already in the works, will further aid in this co-operative approach to global health threats.