Chinese scientists have denied accusations that China deliberately withheld information about the origins of COVID-19. The latest published study, which suggests that humans may have introduced the virus to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, Hubei province, has been the subject of intense scientific debate. The study, which was published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, contained over 1,300 samples from the environment and animals sold at the market. The first COVID-19 cases were reported in China from this market.
The data from the paper was first released by researchers from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in February last year, but in a non-peer-reviewed version. Since then, scientists from around the world have been examining the data, and some have accused China of withholding key information. However, Chinese scientists have denied these accusations and have said that they are open to scientific cooperation on the issue.
Last month, researchers from the center uploaded more genetic sequence data from the market to a large international database, the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data. A team of international scientists who examined the new data said they found that raccoon dogs had deposited genetic material where the virus was found. The team hypothesized that the raccoon dogs may have been an intermediate host of the virus, and an animal-to-human spillover event took place at the market.
Despite the findings of the international team, Tong Yigang, dean of the College of Life Science and Technology at Beijing University of Chemical Technology, said at a media briefing on Saturday that there is not enough evidence to support raccoon dogs as a source of the virus. This statement underscores the need for further scientific investigation into the origins of COVID-19. Scientists from around the world are continuing to collaborate on research efforts to uncover the true origins of the virus, and it is likely that more information will emerge in the coming months and years.
According to Tong Yigang, dean of the College of Life Science and Technology at Beijing University of Chemical Technology, none of the animal swab samples collected at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan tested positive for the novel coronavirus. This includes raccoon dogs, which were suspected by some scientists to have been an intermediate host of the virus. The 457 animal swab samples were collected as part of a study that aimed to investigate the origins of COVID-19.
However, genetic material from raccoon dogs was found in environment swabs, 73 of which tested positive out of 923 samples. Further analysis showed that the viral genetic sequences isolated from the environmental samples were almost identical to those collected from early patients. Tong suggested that these findings indicate that the early COVID-19 cases from the market may have received the virus from other humans rather than animals sold at the market.
Tong added that it is possible that humans introduced the virus to the market and polluted the environment, which led to the spread of the virus. Given the complexity of the issue, the study concluded that there is no definitive proof that the COVID-19 virus originated from an animal-to-human spillover event at the market. These findings underscore the need for further research into the origins of the virus.
The origins of COVID-19 have become a highly contentious topic in recent months, with scientists and governments around the world seeking to uncover the truth. In February, the United States Department of Energy changed its view about the likely origins of COVID-19 from “undecided” to suspecting a “lab leak” was behind the pandemic. This theory has been controversial, and scientists have yet to find concrete evidence to support it.
Overall, the study’s findings suggest that the origin of COVID-19 is still uncertain, and more research is needed to understand how the virus spread and how it can be prevented in the future. The study’s authors hope that their research will help inform future efforts to combat COVID-19 and other emerging infectious diseases.
The US Senate recently passed a bill mandating the declassification of information related to the origins of COVID-19, which elicited strong protests from China. The bill’s reason for the disclosure was the belief among US politicians that the virus had leaked from a Chinese lab. Although there is no definitive scientific evidence on the origins of COVID-19, Tong Yigang, dean of the College of Life Science and Technology at Beijing University of Chemical Technology, said that based on the joint investigation by China and the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2021, it is “extremely unlikely” that the virus had emerged from a lab leak.
Shen Hongbing, director of the China CDC, stated that China has maintained a scientific attitude toward origins-tracing of COVID-19 and has proactively communicated and collaborated with the WHO. However, he added that some WHO officials had recently accused China of withholding vital information regarding the origins of COVID-19 and thus denied the validity of the conclusions reached in the joint study. These remarks run counter to the scientific spirit and are disrespectful to scientists from around the world who participated in the early origins-tracing effort, he said. Shen also said that this is an instance of the politicization of COVID-19 origins-tracing, and the Chinese scientific community will not tolerate it.
Shen stated that the Chinese scientific community hopes to promote dialogue, cooperation, and information sharing on origins-tracing with scientists from other countries. He also urged WHO personnel not to be used as political tools by any particular country. The issue of tracing the origins of COVID-19 has recently become a highly contentious topic, and the accusations and counter-accusations have led to the politicization of the subject.
Tong also revealed that there is no conclusive evidence to support the theory that raccoon dogs at the Huanan seafood market were the source of the virus. He pointed out that none of the 457 animal swab samples tested positive for the novel coronavirus, indicating that no animals at the market were infected. Although raccoon dog genetic material was found in the environment swabs, which had 73 of 923 samples test positive, further analysis showed that the viral genetic sequences isolated from the environmental samples were nearly identical to those collected from early patients. Therefore, Tong suggested that the virus may have spread from human-to-human contact rather than through animals sold at the market.
Zhou Lei, a researcher from China CDC and a participant in the joint study, expressed surprise at the claims of some WHO staff members regarding China withholding information related to COVID-19 origins. Zhou stated that China had shared all available data at the time with the joint expert committee, including clinical information from over 76,000 early and suspected COVID-19 cases.
Chinese researchers also shared over 38,000 samples from domestic animals and 41,000 samples from wild animals collected in China from 2018 to 2020, none of which had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Zhou added. She emphasized that all these findings have been published and shared with the world.
Regarding blood tests of Wuhan residents, Zhou said that Chinese researchers had tested 43,850 blood samples collected before December 2019 and found no antibodies for COVID-19. This finding indicates that there were no prior cases, and the results have been published and shared globally.
Furthermore, Zhou highlighted that the joint expert team had visited various labs in Wuhan, conducted in-depth interviews with lab personnel and students, and even investigated their health and clinical records. These efforts were part of a comprehensive investigation to trace the origins of COVID-19.
The Chinese scientific community maintains that it has been transparent and cooperative in sharing information regarding the origins of COVID-19. It rejects accusations of withholding vital information, and is committed to promoting international cooperation and sharing of information on origins-tracing. While the exact origin of the virus remains uncertain, the Chinese scientific community continues to engage with scientists from around the world to find answers based on scientific evidence.
Zhou Lei, a researcher from China CDC and a participant in the joint study, emphasized that China had shared all available data with the joint expert committee, including clinical information from over 76,000 early and suspected COVID-19 cases. She expressed her surprise at the claims made by some WHO staff members and stressed that China had not withheld any data.
Zhou also mentioned that Chinese researchers had shared over 38,000 samples from domestic animals and 41,000 samples from wild animals collected in China from 2018 to 2020, and none had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Additionally, she pointed out that Chinese researchers had tested 43,850 blood samples collected before December 2019 from Wuhan residents, and none had antibodies for COVID-19.
Zhou acknowledged that finding the origin of a virus was challenging and cited the example of how scientists have yet to find the source of the Ebola virus after more than 40 years of research. She also emphasized that the location where the epidemic first began did not necessarily equal the place of the pandemic’s origin, and that it was necessary to expand the scope of COVID-19 origins-tracing to other countries and regions.
Zhou called for the global scientific community to work together objectively and scientifically, emphasizing the need for international collaboration to identify the origins of COVID-19. She believes that working together will lead to more effective origins-tracing research and better global health outcomes.