No social distancing, masks at Wuhan's mass graduation ceremony

Students in navy gowns and mortarboards sat in crowded rows, without social distancing or face masks during the graduation ceremony attended by thousands of students.

Wuhan celebrates massive graduation ceremony

A huge red banner welcomed more than 11,000 students in Wuhan for a massive graduation ceremony over a year after the city was battered by the first global outbreak of COVID-19

Students in navy gowns and mortarboards sat in crowded rows, without social distancing or face masks, beneath the sign that read: "Welcoming the graduates of 2020 back home. We wish you all a great future."


Virus outbreak in Wuhan

COVID-19 first emerged in late 2019 in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei province, sending the city of 11 million into one of the world's strictest lockdowns. 

Restrictions were not eased until April when the city started to re-open after 76 days closed off, although schools remained shut for longer.

The city held limited graduation ceremonies last year, with Wuhan University hosting a mostly-online event in June last year, with the students and teachers who did attend all in masks.


Tight virus restrictions in Wuhan earlier

More than 2,200 students at Sunday's ceremony were graduates who could not attend their graduation last year due to tight virus restrictions.

China has since largely contained the outbreak while keeping precautions high, including tight border controls, quarantines, mandatory online "health codes" and varying restrictions on domestic travel.


20 new COVID-19 cases in the city

There were 20 new cases on Tuesday, including 18 imported from overseas and two in a local outbreak in southern Guangdong province.

There have been 4,636 deaths officially reported, the majority in Wuhan.

Quoting a line of ancient Chinese poetry, the banner offered students advice for the future: "The ocean is boundless for leaping fish."


SARS-CoV-2 continues to spark tension

As life in Wuhan settles down over a year after the virus, the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has scorched its way across the world killing millions and bringing economies to a standstill continues to spark speculation and tension.

With few clear answers, speculation has persisted since the beginning of the pandemic, spawning misinformation and conspiracy theories as well as sharp diplomatic tensions.

Bats were identified early on as the probable origin of COVID-19. But scientists think the virus would have passed from the winged mammals to another species before reaching humans.

The pangolin was singled out as a suspect because it is one of the wild animal species sold at the market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which was linked to most of the first known cases of coronavirus.


Was the Wuhan virus engineered?

Another idea floated early on was that the virus did not reach people through animals but was engineered.

This idea often went hand-in-hand with the theory that the virus had leaked from a secure biolab in Wuhan. The idea spread widely online with some help from former US president Donald Trump.

One version of this theory alleges that the virus was created and spread on purpose.

Some internet publications have claimed that the existence of coronavirus patents offer "proof" of this, although in reality they are pointing to patented research on other coronaviruses.


Lab leak was 'extremely unlikely'

The idea that a virus of natural origins -- taken from a bat, for example -- could have escaped from a secure biolab has been under increased consideration in recent weeks.

The WHO team that travelled to Wuhan in January said in their report that animal transmission was "likely to very likely" while a lab leak was "extremely unlikely".

But WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus has said the laboratory leak theory "requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy".

In May, a group of 18 experts had echoed the sentiment in an editorial that appeared in the journal Science.


COVID-19 virus first emerged in China

Citing a US intelligence report, The Wall Street Journal reported in May that three workers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalised with a seasonal illness in November 2019, a month before Beijing disclosed the existence of a mysterious pneumonia outbreak.

Days later US President Joe Biden gave intelligence agencies three months to report to him on whether the COVID-19 virus first emerged in China from an animal source or from a laboratory accident.

Experts point out, however, that the renewed interest in this theory comes from a lack of information -- not from new evidence

Assigning blame for the pandemic has had Beijing and Washington eager to point the finger at one another.

As host country to the world's first identified cases, China has come under intense scrutiny. 

Western countries have accused it of lacking transparency, both in its initial response and in its cooperation with investigations into the origins of the virus.



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