‘Not an engineered virus, but may have leaked from Wuhan lab’

Leading American coronavirus expert, Professor Richard H. Ebright, who is the laboratory director at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology and a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, United States, spoke to The Daily Guardian on Covid-19.

Q: Do you think SARS-CoV-2 is a laboratory-engineered virus?

A: The genome sequence of the virus provides no basis to conclude the virus is engineered. The genome sequence shows no signatures of purposeful human manipulation.

Q: Do you think SARS-CoV-2 may have entered humans through a laboratory accident?

A: Wuhan CDC and Wuhan Institute of Virology conducted large research projects on novel bat viruses, maintained large research collections of novel bat viruses, and possessed the virus that is most closely related known virus in the world to the outbreak virus (bat virus RaTG13; isolated in 2013; published on January 23, 2020). Documentary evidence indicates that the novel-batvirus projects at Wuhan CDC and Wuhan Institute of Virology used PPE and bio-safety standards that would pose high risk of accidental infection of a laboratory worker upon contact with a virus having the transmission properties of the outbreak virus. Laboratory accidents—especially laboratory-acquired infections—are common.

Q: Lately, lots of cases are being discovered regarding asymptomatic patients. Can you help our readers understand why some have symptoms, while others do not have any symptoms at all?

A: As with almost all infectious diseases, severity of symptoms differs for different patients. For Covid-19, as many as one-quarter to one-half of infected persons show no or only minor symptoms.

Q: Do you think the virus has any relation with rising temperature as is being claimed by many experts?

A: Effects of temperature and humidity on transmission and clinical course are negligible or small.

Q: Why are we seeing fewer cases in regions that have relatively higher temperatures?

A: We are not. There is no sound evidence that this is true, and much evidence that this is untrue. (It is important not to confuse erroneous under-counting of cases due to under-testing—as is occurring in the global South—with actual low numbers of cases.)

Q: Do you think the BCG vaccination that Indians have during their infancy could be one of the reasons why India is seeing fewer cases?

A : No . U n t i l 2005, BCG vaccination was mandatory in the UK, and, until 2007, BCG was mandatory in France. The case fatality rates for UK and France provide no basis to correlate BCG vaccination with lower transmission or lower clinical severity. The low case count in India is erroneous and results from under-counting due to under-testing.

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