This Pune Scientist Couple Wants COVID ‘Lab Leak’ Theory Probed

Dr Monali Rahalkar and Dr Rahul Bahulikar are part of a team of scientists looking for clues on the virus’ origins.

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The hypothesis that the novel coronavirus originated from a “lab leak” in China’s Wuhan has gotten fresh impetus as a US government laboratory recently concluded that the theory is plausible.

Although the World Health Organisation has favoured the possibility of zoonotic origins of COVID-19, groups of scientists have been demanding a forensic probe into the “lab leak” theory as well.

A Pune-based scientist couple, Dr Monali Rahalkar and Dr Rahul Bahulikar, are working with DRASTIC or Decentralised Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19 – a group of people including scientists looking for clues on the virus’ origins.

“Earlier, it was thought that all the initial cases of COVID came from the Huanan Market but later, when I checked a paper published in The Lancet, it was clearly written that the cases were not from there,” Dr Monali Rahalkar, scientist at Agharkar Research Institute, said.

“Bats are known to be reservoirs of this virus but the period in which the pandemic began, bats were hibernating. The particular bats which carried the virus are called horseshoe bats and they are not typically found in Wuhan. They’re commonly found in the Yunnan or the Guangdong province, which is about 1,100 miles away from Wuhan. So, how did they come here?”
Dr Monali Rahalkar

‘Virus Was Previously Known and Documented’: Dr Rahalkar

Dr Rahalkar also said that Wuhan-based virologist Shi Zhengli, famously known as the ‘batwoman of China,’ had collected samples of coronaviruses commonly found in bats and rodents. She’d also collected samples from the Mojiang mineshaft and studied it for three years.

“Her team collected 22,000 of coronavirus samples originating from bats and rodents. The database on her research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) went offline on 12 September 2019, two months before the first cases of COVID-19 emerged,” said Dr Rahalkar.

“The earlier history of this virus was disclosed in the WIV findings on the origin of the virus. There was a group of six miners who were previously infected by bats in a mineshaft in Yunnan province. These miners developed pneumonia symptoms like fever, cough breathlessness. All six were admitted in a hospital due to the symptoms.”

“We uncovered that these pneumonia cases and RA4991 samples were taken from the same mineshaft. Since Dr Zhengli had deposited the sample of the virus in Wuhan, we had our first clue on how the virus may have travelled from Yunnan to Wuhan.”
Dr Monali Rahalkar

Biden Pushes US Intelligence Agencies to Probe COVID-19 Origins

The World Health Organisation on 30 March had released a joint WHO-China study on the origins of COVID-19 and stated that the virus most likely spread from bats to humans via another animal. But Dr Rahalkar and DRASTIC believe that the “lab leak” theory wasn’t seriously investigated by the team.

US President Biden, on 26 May, urged the US intelligence authorities to “redouble” efforts for probing the origins of the coronavirus, saying that there is inadequate evidence to conclude if it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.

Since this pandemic has cost so many lives and livelihoods, Rahalkar believes that a forensic investigation is the way forward.

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