WHO VERDICT

Put Wuhan lab Covid-19 conspiracy theory behind us now

WHO investigation rules the coronavirus did not originate at Huanan market or from a lab

In Summary

•The laboratory conspiracy theory was peddled by former US President Donald Trump and supported by former Centres for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield.

•Peter Daszak dismissed claims that Chinese authorities refused to share crucial data, stressing that the team got "access to critical new data throughout." 

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
REPORT: WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Image: Reuters

The verdict is out. Experts have yet again failed to determine the origin of the coronavirus and the search should now cast its net wider for probable sources of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic.

These sentiments are contained in a joint report released on March 30 by the joint team comprising experts from both the World Health Organization (WHO) and China.    

The conspiracy theory that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan trended in the weeks and months following the WHO’s declaration of Covid-19 as a global pandemic.

The rumours were spread by former US President Donald Trump and supported by former Centres for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield.

Of course, these were plain lies spread by Trump after he hit a dead end with his orchestrated trade war with China. His obsession with undermining China’s massive growth was given a lifeline with the emergence of the coronavirus.

By claiming that China is solely to blame for the pandemic, he thought he would isolate the country from the rest of the world. However, lies do not sell in this time and age when people are generally enlightened.

The lab conspiracy theory was principally peddled by former US President Donald Trump.
RUMOURS: The lab conspiracy theory was principally peddled by former US President Donald Trump.
Image: REUTERS

The joint international team examined four scenarios for SARS-CoV-2 introduction:

  • Direct zoonotic transmission to humans (spillover);
  • Introduction through an intermediate host followed by spillover;
  • Introduction through the (cold) food chain;
  • Introduction through a laboratory incident.

 

According to the WHO report, no SARS-CoV-2 was identified in more than 4,500 research project samples from the second half of 2019 in stored samples collected at various hospitals in Wuhan, the rest of Hubei province and other provinces.

Further, analysis of retail pharmacy on the purchase of the antipyretics, cold and cough medications did not offer a useful indicator of early community SARS-CoV-2 activity.  

There was no evidence of substantial unexpected fluctuation in mortality that might suggest the occurrence of the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2.

There was also no indication of the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 in the population before December 2019, which would have been enough evidence to determine whether SARS-CoV-2 infection had spread in Wuhan in the period preceding December 2019.

The team visited nine places deemed hotspots including the Huanan seafood market, Wuhan Institute of virology and the Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital. They also held talks with a cross-section of players in the area who were affected variously by the pandemic including medical personnel, recovered patients and their families.

WHO says Huanan seafood market in Wuhan City, is not the origin of the novel coronavirus.
SAFE: WHO says Huanan seafood market in Wuhan City, is not the origin of the novel coronavirus.
Image: Reuters

On February 9, the team gave a detailed briefing on the outcomes of the origin-tracing cooperation and laid the foundation for follow through efforts on coronavirus origin-tracing.

A month later on March 9, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian held a press conference where he reiterated the fact that “the experts on the mission made their own decisions independently as to where they would like to visit, who they would like to talk to and what they would like to talk about as the fieldwork proceeded.”

This fact was corroborated by Peter Daszak, a member of the team from WHO. Daszak dismissed claims that Chinese authorities refused to share crucial data, stressing that the team got "access to critical new data throughout." He also tweeted that "as lead of animal/environment working group I found trust & openness with my China counterparts."

China has kept close communication and cooperation with the WHO in an open and transparent spirit."
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin

It was also not possible to determine how the SARS-CoV-2 was introduced into the Huanan market or other markets on the basis of the current epidemiological information surveyed. A sampling of bats in Hubei province did not identify evidence of SARS-CoV-2 related viruses, while sampling of wildlife in different places in China failed to identify the presence of SARS-CoV-2.

Although the cold-chain products are yet to be tested, results from all the animal related samples from Huanan market were negative.

Let us take a brief look at the timelines of China’s cooperation with the WHO on investigating covid-19 origins. During the 73rd World Health Assembly held between May 18 to 19, the delegates asked the WHO “to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction into the human population.”

On the invitation of the Chinese government, WHO experts conducted preparatory consultations on Covid-19 origin-tracing from July 11 to August 2, 2020. Together they formulated the China part of a global scientific cooperation plan. From January 14 to February 10, 2021, a 34-member expert team comprising the WHO and China joint undertook a 28-day research mission.

"As lead of animal/environment working group I found trust & openness with my China counterparts."
PETER DASZAK: "As lead of animal/environment working group I found trust & openness with my China counterparts."
Image: Courtesy

There is not much else the Beijing administration can do to assuage the rumour mongers or convince them otherwise.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin has said that since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, China has kept close communication and cooperation with the WHO in an open and transparent spirit. This has entailed, among others, sharing control measures, treatment plans and study results with the world.

Clearly, China has ceded so much ground and bent over backwards to accommodate its critics on how it managed the coronavirus in the first days after it was discovered. Even today, the authorities are still open to fielding questions from the media and other interested parties on this grave matter.

From the foregoing, the conspiracy theory that blames China for the pandemic have yet again proved fake. Saying the first case of coronavirus was identified in Wuhan is inadequate to pin down China by any stretch of the imagination. It is time to go back to the drawing board.