How did Covid-19 really originate? The origins of the SARS-Cov-2 virus which was first detected a little over a year ago, and has since rocked the world in a pandemic unlike any other in recent times has always been speculative. The virus was first detected from a wet-food market in Wuhan, China, which soon turned into the epicentre of the disease. It slowly spread to other Asian countries, and then to the West. A year on, 112 million confirmed cases and almost 2.49 million deaths, with the numbers only slated to increase. As the world battles the pandemic and slowly administers a vaccine in hopes of slowly beating the disease which has been leading to multiple second, third and even fourth waves in places which had flattened the curve, the World Health Organization looked into trying to find the origin.
In early February, a team of investigators working on behalf of the World Health Organization visited a major virus research laboratory in China’s central city of Wuhan, seeking clues to the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. The institute has been at the centre of a number of conspiracy theories that claim a laboratory leak caused the city’s first coronavirus outbreak at the end of 2019. Even just last week, a German scientist has published a 105-page long document listing his reasons why coronavirus possibly leaked from a research lab in Wuhan.
In fact, two major theories around Wuhan, has been at the forefront of origin conspiracies – the wet food market, and the Wuhan lab.
An Australian doctor, Dominic Dwyer, who was part of the WHO probe team, wrote a first-person account for The Conversation which explains why the origin from these both places is extremely unlikely.
He describes his experience at visiting the market at being able to see why it would be a transmission cluster, “When we visited the closed market, it’s easy to see how an infection might have spread there. When it was open, there would have been around 10,000 people visiting a day, in close proximity, with poor ventilation and drainage.
There’s also genetic evidence generated during the mission for a transmission cluster there. Viral sequences from several of the market cases were identical, suggesting a transmission cluster. However, there was some diversity in other viral sequences, implying other unknown or unsampled chains of transmission.” He sums it up as just a hotspot, which led to a much larger result. “The market in Wuhan, in the end, was more of an amplifying event rather than necessarily a true ground zero,” he writes.
He explains why the lab leak was also ‘extremely unlikely.’ “We visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is an impressive research facility, and looks to be run well, with due regard to staff health,” he explains.
“We spoke to the scientists there. We heard that scientists’ blood samples, which are routinely taken and stored, were tested for signs they had been infected. No evidence of antibodies to the coronavirus was found. We looked at their biosecurity audits. No evidence.
We looked at the closest virus to SARS-CoV-2 they were working on — the virus RaTG13 — which had been detected in caves in southern China where some miners had died seven years previously.
But all the scientists had was a genetic sequence for this virus. They hadn’t managed to grow it in culture. While viruses certainly do escape from laboratories, this is rare. So, we concluded it was extremely unlikely this had happened in Wuhan,” he summed up.
In September last year, a Chinese virologist who had allegedly fled China, claimed that she has proof that the SARS-Covid-2 virus was man-made in a Wuhan lab. She added that the Chinese authorities began to discredit her even before she fled the country. “They deleted all my information and also they told people to spread rumours about me,” she said.
Currently, the WHO investigators have backed the ruling Communist Party’s claims that “cold-chain products” such as Australian beef, may have caused the initial outbreak.
China had claimed that SARS-CoV2 broke out in various parts of the world in 2019 but it was the only one to have reported and acted first. In the past, the Chinese have repeatedly pinned the blame for the pandemic on other countries, including Bangladesh, the US, Greece, India, Italy, Czech Republic, Russia, and Serbia.