China built hospitals in a few days to face the virus, but continues to delay, a year after the first confirmed death, the visit of the WHO mission that will investigate the origin of the virus, considered the ‘most urgent scientific enigma in the world’. The theory that it arose in a Wuhan fish market is increasingly being questioned.
Last Saturday, January 9, it was one year since China’s first confirmed coronavirus death: a 61-year-old customer at the famous Wuhan Fish Market, caused by respiratory failure. This place was initially identified as the site of the emergence of the pathogen, supposedly in an unidentified species of bat.
But this theory is not at all plausible for some researchers. One of them estimates that it could have arisen many months before, perhaps a year before or even more.
Almost two million deaths later, the pandemic is out of control around the world and has caused tens of millions of sick people, the collapse of the world economy and led to a multitude of disputes and reproaches between countries.
What are the Chinese authorities saying today about the WHO mission to investigate the origin of the coronavirus? That preparations for the mission were underway.
WHO criticized the delay of the mission’s long-planned trip. The director general of the WHO said he was “very disappointed” by the lack of completion in Beijing of the necessary permits for a group of experts to travel to China and investigate the origin of the virus.
China continues to hamper independent attempts to find out the origins of the virus and to answer the central question of how it was transmitted from animals to humans.
Experts warn that a plausible answer to the origin of the coronavirus may never be found, after months of investigation marked by disorganization, China’s secrecy and grudges.
The investigations stumble over and over again in a hodgepodge of clues that suggest that the virus could have originated previously, outside Wuhan, or of conspiracy theories – encouraged by Trump – that indicate that the coronavirus would have been created in a Wuhan laboratory .
Establishing the origin is vital to be able to stop future outbreaks quickly, say virologists. That clue could set the tone for political decisions about whether to euthanize animal populations, quarantine affected people, or limit hunting of wild animals or human-animal contacts.
Doubts about the Wuhan market
China was praised for promptly reporting on the virus and for divulging its genetic sequence, compared to its behavior during the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak, which it concealed at first.
But not everything has been so transparent.
Wuhan authorities first tried to cover up the outbreak and then wasted precious weeks denying human-to-human transmission.
From the beginning, the Chinese authorities stated bluntly that the outbreak started in Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.
But data from China for January 2020 shows that several of the first cases were not related to the market, which would suggest that the origin of the virus could be elsewhere.
China’s version took a turn in March, when a disease control officer in that country, Gao Fu, said the market was not the source, but a “victim,” a place where the pathogen had simply been found. amplified.
Since then, China has been unable to tie up any loose ends, providing information about animal or environmental samples collected in the market with a dropper, which could be of great help to researchers, according to experts. Further, it has kept foreign specialists away for a long time.
What evidence could be found a year later?
What scientists will be allowed to see once there or what they hope to find a year later is also anyone’s guess. Experts claim that authorities could have destroyed or cleaned up crucial evidence, in an initial response driven by panic.
“Each outbreak follows a path. It’s kind of chaotic and dysfunctional, ”Daszak said.
“They didn’t do a great job in animal research at first,” he added. “In some things they were quite open, but in others they were quite less open,” he said.
The reasons that led China to act with such secrecy are not clear, but the Communist Party – in power – has a long history of eliminating information that could be politically harmful.
Whistleblowers and citizen journalists who shared details online of what happened in the terrifying first weeks of the virus have been gagged or jailed.
Beijing may want to hide oversights or failures in regulation or research to avoid domestic embarrassments or global “delays” to come to light, said Daniel Lucey, an epidemiologist at Georgetown University.
The Wuhan market may not be the starting point, Lucey added. According to him, the virus had already spread rapidly through Wuhan in December 2019, which would indicate that it would have been circulating long before.
That’s because it can take months or even years for a virus to develop the mutations necessary to become highly contagious between humans.
The theory that it originated in the market “is just not plausible at all,” Lucey insisted. “It happened naturally and it was many months before, maybe a year, maybe more than a year,” he added.
And if the doubts were not enough, in December China said that in Wuhan, at the beginning of the epidemic, there could have been up to 10 times more cases of covid-19 than those declared at that time.