From the Viewsroom

Wuhan’s secret

PT Jyothi Datta | Updated on February 11, 2021

The origins of Covid virus eludes, despite international probe

A fact-finding mission is never easy. And that seems to have been the case for the World Health Organisation-convened international team that visited Wuhan, China, to get to the origins of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

From getting permission for the research team’s month-long visit to the many loose ends that remain, despite the team concluding its visit, the mystery continues to hover over the origin of the virus. Visuals from the team’s visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the controversial wet market, both infamous internationally as possible sources of the virus, may have appeared like scenes from a new version of the film Contagion.

However, the team’s findings were along expected lines. A “lab leak” of the virus was ruled out as “highly unlikely”. And the wet market, too, seems to be off the hook. Wet markets sell live and dead animals, often wild and endangered ones. And global public health representatives have been calling to end such virus hotspots. The findings instead point to, among others, frozen food imported into China. A reference was made to beef from Australia, something the authorities in Australia have dismissed. China has, in the past, pointed to the US, Italy and India as possible sources of the virus.

For the WHO to enter a country and review ground conditions, it needs the approval and cooperation from the host. But this exercise would have instilled more confidence if researchers were given the raw data to review and draw conclusions. Instead, as one researcher said, they were presented data that had been analysed. And while this may be true of other countries as well, it leads to questions on the transparency shown by the host country, China.

Once they return to their countries, the international researchers will need to follow through on the leads from Wuhan and perhaps come out with a more plausible report on the origins of the pandemic-causing virus. That would make this fact-finding mission a meaningful one.

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Published on February 11, 2021
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