Coronavirus: What is “DRASTIC”, the independent collective investigating the origin of the epidemic?

Coronavirus : Qu’est-ce que « DRASTIC », le collectif indépendant qui enquête sur l’origine de l’épidémie ?

C’est l’un des rapports les plus attendus de l’histoire. Les premières conclusions de l’enquête conjointe menée par les experts de l’OMS et de la Chine sur les origines de l’épidémie de coronavirus privilégie l’hypothèse d’une transmission du virus à l’homme par l’intermédiaire d’un animal infecté par une chauve-souris et écarte la thèse d’une fuite d’un laboratoire chinois.

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Coronavirus: What is “DRASTIC”, the independent collective investigating the origin of the epidemic?

The first findings of the joint report by WHO and Chinese experts were released on Monday, fifteen months after the appearance of the first cases of Covid-19 at the end of December 2019 in Wuhan.

The report favors the hypothesis of transmission of the virus to humans via an animal infected by a bat and rules out the thesis of a leak from a Chinese laboratory.

For “DRASTIC”, a group of multidisciplinary experts who conduct their own research into the origins of the epidemic, the investigation lacks independence and transparency.

It is one of the most anticipated reports in history. The first conclusions of the joint investigation carried out by experts from the WHO and China into the origins of the coronavirus epidemic favor the hypothesis of transmission of the virus to humans via a animal infected by a bat and rejects the thesis of a leak from a Chinese laboratory.

Fifteen months after the appearance of the first cases of Covid-19 at the end of December 2019 in Wuhan, many are worried about the lack of independence of experts and accuse the WHO of complacency towards China. This is the case of the collective “DRASTIC”, which has launched its own independent investigation into the origin of the pandemic. Who are they and why do they not trust the findings of the WHO survey? 20 Minutes takes stock.

What is the “DRASTIC” collective?
“DRASTIC” – for Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating Covid-19 (Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team investigating Covid-19) – is a multidisciplinary collective, made up of around thirty people, in particular Asian researchers, who are was formed on Twitter in February 2020. “It is a collective of scientists, but not only, who have joined forces to investigate the possible origins of SARS-CoV-2”, explains Gilles Demaneuf, a neo data analyst to 20 Minutes. -Zeeland, member of the collective.

This multidisciplinary group includes “biologists, genetics specialists, engineers with knowledge of laboratory construction and maintenance, data specialists, analyst profiles, open data specialists, cultural specialists. Chinese ”, continues the engineer, who adds that each profile is welcome“ as long as it contributes ”. In addition, some members choose to remain anonymous on Twitter to protect themselves from possible reprisals.

Why was it created?
In early 2020, internet user Billy Bostinkson (a pseudonym) lays the foundation for the collective on Twitter. “Everyone has found themselves in one way or another in contact with DRASTIC during their personal research, either after reading research articles from certain members, or through social media,” explains Gilles. Demaneuf. “Our goal is to find the origin of the virus, to understand where, how and why the epidemic started. We want to find facts, evidence, and not fallacies, “adds Rodolphe de Maistre, project director in an engineering company and member of the collective.

And if the group took up the subject, it is also because its members believe that the thesis of an accidental leak of a modified virus at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, refuted by the Chinese authorities and dismissed by the joint report of the WHO and China, is however the explanation “the most plausible”, advances André Goffinet, professor at the Institute of Neuroscience of Louvain, in Belgium, member of the collective. Indeed, in February 2020, the journal Nature revealed that in 2012, a form of severe pneumonia had already killed six miners in southwest China. The men were tasked with cleaning up a disused copper mine, populated by several bat colonies. After the tragedy, Shi Zhengli, a famous virologist from a Wuhan laboratory, took samples in the mine and in 2013 discovered RaTG13. In February 2020, the scientist then claimed to have found in her samples a virus that would be more than 96% close to SARS-CoV-2.

Hence the questions of many scientists around the world. “The WHO is simply not investigating a natural origin other than a zoonosis (diseases or infections that are transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa)”, deplores Gilles Demaneuf. In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

What do they think of the joint WHO-China report?
If it does not solve the mystery of the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the report, of which AFP obtained a copy on Monday, estimates the transmission to humans of the virus by an intermediate animal “probable to very probable” , but dismissed the scenario of a laboratory incident, deeming it “extremely unlikely”. For the members of the DRASTIC collective, the survey was not carried out in full transparency, China having first validated the WHO experts: “WHO suggested 17 international members who were validated by China », Explains Gilles Demaneuf. Rodolphe de Maistre goes even further, arguing that this was not a WHO investigation, but simply the conclusions of local experts: “The WHO experts have visited China. But they just met the Chinese scientists who gave them their conclusions. “

For some, it is the very subject of the survey that is biased. “The agenda of the China-WHO mission was dictated, or at least submitted, for China’s approval. The report was explicitly commissioned to understand how the virus may have passed from bats to humans. They ruled out considering the hypothesis of a laboratory accident on the pretext that it is too unlikely, which is false “, regrets André Goffinet. “If WHO had really wanted to investigate a possible accident, it would have formed a much different team with laboratory risk experts. This is what it did for example for the SARS laboratory accidents in Singapore and then Taiwan in 2003, ”adds Gilles Demaneuf.

In a first reaction to this document, on Monday, the head of the WHO considered that all the hypotheses put forward in the report deserved to be studied further. The report is due to be released on Tuesday.

One thought on “Coronavirus: What is “DRASTIC”, the independent collective investigating the origin of the epidemic?

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