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China's Role In Coronavirus Outbreak: What WHO investigation team have found?

February 09, 2021 | 12:34

WHO team of experts are on their way to conclude a lengthy and crucial investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus and have found 'important clues'.

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Covid-19 has caused more than 105.7 million infections and 2.3 million deaths. (Photo: NDTV)

The purpose of investigation

Scientists probing the origins of the coronavirus are wrapping up a lengthy investigation in China and have found "important clues" about a Wuhan seafood market's role in the outbreak. Investigators want to know how the SARS-CoV-2 virus - whose closest known relative came from bats 1,000 miles away - spread explosively in Wuhan before causing the worst contagion in more than a century. Daszak said the investigation heralds a turning point in pandemic mitigation.

The WHO was asked in May to help "identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts." Investigators want to know how the Sars-CoV-2 virus - whose closest-known relative came from bats more than 1,600km away - spread in Wuhan before causing the worst contagion in more than a century.

Dr. Daszak said the investigation heralds a turning point in pandemic mitigation. "It's the beginning of hopefully a really deep understanding of what happened so we can stop the next one," he said late last Friday. "That's what this is all about - trying to understand why these things emerge so we don't continually have global economic crashes and horrific mortality while we wait for vaccines. It's just not a tenable future."

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Security personnel keeping watch outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology. (Photo: Reuters)

Investigation theory

According to NDTV, the lack of a clear pathway from bats to humans has stoked speculation - refuted by Daszak and many other scientists - that the virus might have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a maximum bio-containment laboratory studying bat-borne coronaviruses. Scientists visited the lab and asked Shi Zhengli, who has collected and analyzed these viruses for more than a decade, about the research and the earliest known coronavirus cases.

The work has been "collaborative", with Chinese counterparts helping mission investigators dig deeper for clues, Dr. Daszak said. "We went through information, new data, and then said we want to go to the key places," he said. "They asked for a list. We suggested where we should go and the people we should meet. We went to every place on that list and they were really forthcoming."

Subsequent research found earlier cases among people not linked to the market, undermining that theory. Investigators looked further and found "important clues" about the market's role, Dr. Daszak said, declining to elaborate, said Straits Times.

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‘Whole gamut of key lines of investigation’. (Photo: Global Times)

‘Whole gamut of key lines of investigation’

The New York-based zoologist assisting the WHO-sponsored mission also noted that the experts have to “cover the whole gamut of key lines of investigation”. Daszak also informed that “to be fair” the Chinese scientists who are currently hosting the 14-member team are also doing the same for the past several months, Republic World

About Chinese hosts, he reportedly said, “They've been working behind the scenes, digging up the information, looking at it, and getting it ready.” Daszak is one of 10 independent experts assisting the WHO mission along with five staff members and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health have two each.

The work has been "collaborative," with Chinese counterparts helping mission investigators dig deeper for clues, he said.

"We sat down with them every single day and went through information, new data, and then said we want to go to the key places," the British scientist said. "They asked for a list. We suggested where we should go and the people we should meet. We went to every place on that list and they were really forthcoming with that."

Daszak is one of 10 independent experts assisting the WHO mission. The agency also has five staff members participating, and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health have two each.

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Photo: Global Times

'Important Clues'

Subsequent research found earlier cases among people not linked to the market, undermining that theory. Investigators looked further and found "important clues" about the market's role, Daszak said, declining to elaborate. "Right now, we're trying to tease everything together," he said. "We've looked at these three strands separately. Now we're going to bring it together and see what everything tells us."

While the food market was shuttered and cleaned almost immediately after cases were recognized, "it's still pretty intact," Daszak said. "People left in a hurry and they left equipment, they left utensils, they left evidence of what was going on, and that's what we looked at."

Scientists in China who took environmental samples inside the market identified sites where traces of SARS-CoV-2 were detected, he said. Investigators also benefited from a greater understanding of Covid-19. "We know now what we didn't know then -- that for every sick case, there were others that were asymptomatic or difficult to distinguish from a cold or cough," Daszak said. "And so it's not unexpected that there would have been other cases other than ones that got into hospital. But how many others, when did this start? That's the sort of thing we're still working on."

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