A team of scientists has produced evidence that the pandemic virus is ‘uniquely adapted to infect humans’, raising fresh questions over whether its origins were natural or could have occurred in a laboratory.
Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, a top vaccine researcher who headed the Australian team, said the virus was ‘not typical of a normal zoonotic [animal to human] infection’ since it appeared with the ‘exceptional’ ability to enter human bodies from day one.
He said the virus should have emerged from an animal through ‘a freak event of nature’ but the possibility that it had leaked from a laboratory could not be ruled out.
Petrovsky, professor of medicine at Flinders University in Adelaide, runs a biotech research unit that will start human trials for a Covid-19 vaccine next month.
‘I haven’t seen a zoonotic virus that has behaved in this way before,’ he said.
He told The Mail on Sunday that new viruses crossing over from animals normally strengthen as they adapt to human hosts, but for unexplained reasons, this new coronavirus seems perfectly adapted to infect humans without the need to evolve.
He pointed to the ‘coincidence’ that the most closely related known viruses were being studied in a laboratory in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the pandemic erupted, and insisted that the possibility of a leak, however remote, should not be ignored in the search for its origin.
‘The implications may not be good for scientists or global politics, but just because the answers might cause problems, we can’t run away from them,’ he added. ‘There is currently no evidence of a leak but enough circumstantial data to concern us. It remains a possibility until it is ruled out.’
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