Nearly a year after doctors identified the first cases of a worrying new disease in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the country appears to be stepping up a campaign to question the origins of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
State media has been reporting intensively on coronavirus discovered on packaging of frozen food imports, not considered a significant vector of infection elsewhere, and research into possible cases of the disease found outside China’s borders before December 2019.
The official People’s Daily newspaper claimed in a Facebook post last week that “all available evidence suggests that the coronavirus did not start in central China’s Wuhan”.
“Wuhan was where the coronavirus was first detected but it was not where it originated,” it quoted Zeng Guang, formerly a chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, as saying. A foreign ministry spokesman, asked about state media reports that the virus originated outside China, said only that it was important to distinguish between where Covid-19 was first detected and where it crossed the species barrier to infect humans.
“Although China was the first to report cases, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the virus originated in China,” Zhao Lijian told a briefing. “Origin tracing is an ongoing process that may involve multiple countries and regions.”
Chinese scientists have even submitted a paper for publication to the Lancet – although it has not yet been peer-reviewed – that claims “Wuhan is not the place where human-to-human Sars-CoV-2 transmission first happened”, suggesting instead that the first case may have been in the “Indian subcontinent”.
Claims that the virus had origins outside China are given little credence by western scientists. Michael Ryan, director of the health emergencies programme at the World Health Organization (WHO), said last week that it would be “highly speculative” to argue that the disease did not emerge in China. “It is clear from a public health perspective that you start your investigations where the human cases first emerged,” he told a news briefing in Geneva. [Continue reading…]