US should open its door to the study of COVID-19 origins
Even more than one and a half years after the first report of its outbreak, the coronavirus continues wreaking havoc around the world. The scientific methods to deal with and several vaccines for the fatal virus have already been developed, but nothing could rein in the catastrophic dispersal of the virus that has finally turned into a devastating pandemic.
The virus continues mutating fast and producing new variants, which. are more deadly and contagious than previously to infect and snatch more human lives. If they diminish from some regions, they appear in different regions with new vigor, turning them into the new epicenter of the pandemic. Thus the pandemic has been shattering one region after another since 2020.
To scientists and experts, it is essential to trace the origins of a virus for better understanding and dealing more effectively with the virus. Therefore, they are trying to trace the origins of the coronavirus. The scientists and experts led by the World Health Organization think they have to first understand its origins and determine how it disseminates to contain further infections and future epidemics.
They also believe that it is necessary to trace the virus back to its starting point to develop therapeutic and vaccine strategies and prevent future zoonosis. Origin tracing is also important to understand how the disease spreads and know which animals pose a risk of infections.
Keeping these scientific suppositions in mind, China has opened its door to the WHO for conducting thorough research on the origins of coronavirus as its outbreak was first reported in Wuhan. At the invitation of China, the experts from the WHO have so far visited the country twice for research. They finally visited Wuhan for 28 days from Jan 14 to Feb 10 this year.
During the period, international experts from the WHO, along with their Chinese counterparts, conducted joint research in Wuhan. China whole-heartedly and openly extended its administrative, technical, and logistic support for the joint study. China also offered every possible resource, raw data of particular concerns, and opened the doors of the places the experts wanted to visit, showing its ultimate openness, transparency, and responsible attitude to the international community.
Many experts on the joint mission, including Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist, and Peter K Ben Embarek, a food safety scientist, spoke highly of China, saying they had comprehensive and frank discussions with the Chinese side on data issues. They were able to obtain key data throughout the process. They could feel the trust and openness of the Chinese side and were granted full access to every place they asked to see, everyone they wanted to meet.
In March the WHO released the China-WHO joint mission's origin-tracing study report, , drawing a clear conclusion that a lab leak is extremely unlikely. Peter Ben Embarek, head of the WHO study in Wuhan, said, "The finding suggests laboratory incidents are extremely unlikely." Embarek said nobody was able to pick up any firm argument or proof of evidence that these labs were involved in a lab leak, adding, "We received lots of data, raw data, process data, and results of studies and analysis."
Doctor Peter Daszak of the WHO team said the report is very thorough, as it includes new information and data, adding, "I challenge those who believe that this lacks data to read the report. It's hundreds of pages packed with information that has not been seen before."
After the WHO report came out, Daszak said in an interview with an American media outlet, "There is no evidence that this was a virus created in a lab ... In fact, we've worked with the lab in Wuhan for 15 years now ... And we know that they do not have that virus in the lab".
Meanwhile, the media reported COVID-19 was probably already circulating in Italy by September 2019, according to scientists at Milan's National Cancer Institute, months before the coronavirus was first documented in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Much to scientists' surprise, a new study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded there were COVID-19 infections in the US as early as mid-December 2019, weeks before it was first identified in China.
A study by French scientists found that a man was infected with COVID-19 in Paris as early as Dec 27, four days before China reported the first cases on 31 December 2019.
Brazilian researchers said they found evidence of the virus in wastewater in November 2019, at least a month before the first case was detected in China. However, the presence of the virus was "modest" until it peaked there in March 2020.
Doctor Tom Jefferson of the Center for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University said the coronavirus may have been lying dormant across the world until emerging under favorable environmental conditions, rather than originating in China. Traces of COVID-19 have been found in sewage samples from Spain, Italy, and Brazil that pre-date its discovery in China. A preprint study, which has not been peer-reviewed, claims to have found the presence of coronavirus genomes in a Barcelona sewage sample from March 12, 2019.
On the other hand, the world could learn about the closure of the infamous US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland. It stores the most deadly and infectious viruses, including Ebola, SARS and corona. The closure news left experts and scientists suspicious about the leak of coronavirus from that facility as it has already earned a bad name for such leakage, most notably of anthrax, causing unverified mysterious safety hazards to its neighbors.
During June and July in 2019, the US media started reporting issues involving Fort Detrick. By the end of July, two retirement communities near the facility witnessed outbreaks of pneumonia of unknown cause. In September, e-cigarette-related lung illness cases doubled in Maryland, where Fort Detrick is located.
In July 2019, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a ‘cease and desist order' to halt most research at Fort Detrick. In the same month, there were reports on the unexplained outbreak of the respiratory disease in northern Virginia, and the outbreak of EVALI - a pulmonary illness with symptoms highly similar to COVID-19 - that swept through several US states.
As a result, global doubts are mounting over the American facility. But the US has continued to refuse to release critical information regarding its closure under the pretext of national security. On the contrary, ignoring common sense and facts and scientific findings, the US is exerting pressure on the WHO to launch a third investigation into the Wuhan lab, fanning out the propaganda launched by former US President Donald Trump to slander China.
However, the world's conscience has come forward to endorse China's position over the study of the origins of Covid-19. A total of 48 countries recently submitted letters to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, welcoming the report of the WHO-convened global study on the origins of coronavirus conducted in China. They stressed that the study of origins is a matter of science and oppose the politicization of the issue.
Given the circumstances, many could not help but think the US is running propaganda against China and trying to make the WHO report on the origin-tracing study controversial to cover up something fishy that happened in its territory. I sometimes wonder about the US sticking to "the offense is the best defense" strategy in this regard.
China exercised ultimate honesty and showed a proper, responsible attitude to humanity in reporting COVID-19 first. Many analysts think the country is now paying a high price for its honesty and responsiveness by facing propaganda by the US. Analysts also started believing that the US might have purposefully failed to report the virus first, even though the coronavirus was, according to later studies, present in its different states weeks before the first case was confirmed in China.
No more do they like to take it on faith as a guiltless failure by the US. The number of people sharing the same view is now on the rise. They support the call made by the 48 countries to the WHO to cooperate with member states to advance the study of origins around the world by the relevant resolution of the World Health Assembly.
People think this is the US's turn to open its door to the WHO for conducting a thorough investigation and study of the origins of COVID-19. As the WHO has already conducted the study in China twice, the international call on the WHO to conduct further study in the US is steadily getting louder. It is also essential for the US to prove its integrity and sincerity over the issue to the world. If the US cares a little about humanity, it must invite the WHO, which China has already done for the sake of mankind, to investigate the origins of the virus in its territory.
This is an updated version of the article first published at Chinatimes24.com.
Md Enamul Hassan is a news editor and broadcast journalist at the China Media Group in Beijing, China.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.
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