How China tried to spin Covid origins theory when world pointed at Wuhan

New DelhiWritten By: C KrishnasaiUpdated: Jul 27, 2022, 02:10 PM IST


Story highlights

From the start, China has shown signs of apprehension whenever the Wuhan market was blamed for the Covid pandemic. When the US and other countries sought to probe and asked for data, Beijing accused the West of "blame shifting".

On Tuesday, two new studies were published in journal Science that said the Covid virus originated from China’s Wuhan animal market. Both pointed out that the virus was transmitted from live animals and infected the people, including the vendors, who were present in the market.

The latest studies attest to the long-held assertions that the virus originated in China as it was here the first cases emerged. COVID-19 was first detected in Wuhan in late 2019. 

As the virus was taking its toll on the world over, causing deaths and destroying livelihoods, the call for a probe first came from the United States. Former president Donald Trump repeatedly accused China of engineering the virus from a lab in Wuhan. And when Joe Biden took over, he asked for a report on the origins of Covid-19, "including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident".

Soon, other countries joined in and sought a thorough probe to see how the virus emerged in the first place.

WHO's failure

But much of the larger criticism was directed at the World Health Organisation (WHO) which showed initial reluctance to declare Covid a public health emergency.

The WHO first learned of a “mysterious pneumonia outbreak” in Wuhan on December 31, 2019. But it was not until January 30, 2020, that WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the situation a Public Health Emergency of International Concern —the highest level of alarm under international health rules.

It was lambasted for allowing more than a year to pass before managing to send in a team of international experts to investigate the origins of the virus, and was accused of allowing China to dictate the parameters of their mission.

Amid intense criticism, WHO finally decided to send a team of legal experts to Wuhan to determine the origins of the virus

Did China pressure WHO to drop lab theory?

In February 2021, the WHO-led team travelled to China to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But according to reports, China refused to cooperate with the WHO team when the team sought raw data on the 174 identified cases of Covid-19 from Wuhan in December 2019.

Microbiologist Dominic Dwyer, who was one of the members of WHO visiting Wuhan, told Reuters and the New York Times that as a “standard practice” the team requested raw patient data from early cases. He added that his team only received a summary.

"That's why we've persisted to ask for that," Prof Dwyer said at the time. "Why that doesn't happen, I couldn't comment. Whether it's political or time or it's difficult... But whether there are any other reasons why the data isn't available, I don't know. One would only speculate."

China’s response

From the start, China has shown signs of apprehension whenever the Wuhan market was blamed for the Covid pandemic. When US and other countries sought probe and asked for data, Beijing accused the West of “blame shifting”.

Beijing has emphatically rejected the idea that coronavirus could have come from Wuhan, alleging that Washington is attempting to politicise its origins.

Moreover, it also pushed a counter-theory blaming the US for spreading the virus without any scientific evidence.

On July 7 last year, Chinese ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian had blamed the US Army for introducing the virus in Wuhan.

“When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!” Zhao had written on Twitter.

Zhao did not offer any evidence for his suggestion that the US military might be to blame for the outbreak in China.