Ugly side of Washington's origin probe

(Xinhua) 11:03, August 27, 2021

(Illustration/China Daily)

The novel coronavirus has infected more than 212 million people and claimed over 4.44 million lives across the world, while also wrecking economies and rendering innumerable people jobless. In less than two years, however, multiple COVID-19 vaccines have been developed and distributed globally in an attempt to build herd immunity and save people's lives. The focus of the world therefore should be to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

The origin of the novel coronavirus remains unknown, yet previous US president Donald Trump labeled it as the "Chinese virus", insinuating that it originated in China. He even claimed the virus had leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

That is but one example of a US leader targeting another country in order to divert US citizens' attention from the sorry state of domestic affairs. The rise of xenophobia in the US during Trump's presidency exposed how desperate some leaders are to maintain the US' domination in the fields of finance, science and technology. As a result, the sanctimonious quest of tracing the origin of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has become a convenient excuse for the US to target China in order to assert its global hegemony.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization sent a team of scientists to Wuhan, where the first COVID-19 case in China was reported. The WHO team, comprising international scientists, in collaboration with Chinese scientists, conducted a thorough study and published a 120-page report titled "WHO-convened global study of origins of SARS-CoV-2: China Part" in April 2021. The report concluded that it is "extremely unlikely" that the novel coronavirus leaked from the Wuhan lab.

The report suggested that the novel coronavirus could be a hapless consequence of zoonotic infection "spillover" to humans via direct route of transmission, intermediate hosts or cold food supply chains. The study also uncovered new perspectives which could shed light on the origin of the virus.

First, epidemiological evidence suggest that the novel coronavirus had spread in Brazil, Spain and Italy before the "index case" was defined in Wuhan. Retrospective studies by genome sequencing made it possible for scientists to identify the virus lurking in sewage and donated blood samples before December 2019.

Second, extensive viral genomic screening of more than 27,000 animals across 24 provinces provided no evidence of the circulation of a related virus in China. A genetic evolution analysis showed that the genetic distance between these viruses and SARS-CoV-2 was far (homology is less than or equal to 54.2 percent), and there was no evidence of SARS-CoV-2 in domestic animals and poultry.

The WHO report pointed to animal products from regions beyond Southeast Asia where more distantly related coronaviruses circulated as possible zoonotic spillover sources. The implication is that the novel coronavirus had spread outside China before December 2019, albeit sub-clinically in humans, before viral mutations enabled it to cause serious illness in humans.

Therefore, to identify the origin of the novel coronavirus, further investigations need to be conducted in regions beyond Southeast Asia. Similarly, cold food chains, especially imported goods should be traced for evidence of early viral transmission before the outbreak in China.

The WHO report also rebuked the US for claiming the virus had leaked from the Wuhan lab, quoting verbatim "the three laboratories in Wuhan working with either CoVs diagnostics, isolation and vaccine development all had high-quality biosafety level (BSL3 or 4) facilities that were well-managed, with a staff health monitoring programme with no reporting of COVID-19 compatible respiratory illness during the months prior to December 2019, and no serological evidence of infection in workers through SARS-CoV-2-specific serology-screening".

More important, the WHO report says the study could not conclude that the novel coronavirus originated in Wuhan. Throughout the report, there are recommendations that investigations be carried out in other countries in a similarly robust manner to trace the origin of the virus.

This could open a can of worms for countries researching biological weapons, such as the US. Take Fort Detrick in Maryland, for instance. The laboratory had close ties with a biological warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army before World War II-and as the world knows, the Japanese army conducted horrific experiments on war prisoners in China before and during World War II. And since the waste mismanagement exercise in Fort Detrick in August 2019 exposed major loopholes in the safety arrangements, it is possible that bio-weapon-grade pathogens leaked from a lab. A few more cycles of natural selection subsequently made it lethal and highly transmissible.

In search of the origin, the international community should instead seek a thorough investigation into US labs, including the one in Fort Detrick.

Washington has leveled atrocious charges against Beijing since the pandemic broke out. It has not stopped even after the WHO report deemed it very unlikely for the pandemic to be a product of laboratory leakage in Wuhan.

Perhaps all the noise the US is generating is a wily diversion from the true source that could be in its own heartland.

(Web editor: Xia Peiyao, Liang Jun)


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