Updated: Jun 11
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions of lives over the world over for more than a year and there’s still rising number of cases and deaths. Around the globe it has affected around 170 million of the population and around 3-4 million succumbed to this deadly disease. It has been around one and a half years since the first case of COVID was reported in Wuhan and since then nations have tried to put their different stories in order to find out the origin of this deadly virus. The search for the source of COVID-19 as one of the world’s most fatal disease is increasing and large number of people, as well as many countries are refusing to accept the idea of COVID-19’s natural origin. It is important for the scientists to understand the origin as it will stop future reintroduction of this virus and can also be used to prevent similar events in the future. In this article we will discuss about the different theories of origin and whether China should be held responsible or not?
Theories About its Origin
In general there are two plausible theories about the origin of coronavirus; one is that it occurred naturally from an animal to humans. While decoding the coronavirus’s genome it showed that it belonged to a family of viral in which viruses like SARS1 AND MERS were also included. The link between both the viruses supported the hypothesis that it is a natural virus and had jumped from an animal to humans. This theory was validated by reports from Chinese Health Authorities and World Health Organization and countries like China and Russia also supported the natural origin of COVID-19
The other is that it escaped from a lab while being studied by the scientists. Wuhan Institute of Virology a centre located in Wuhan, a prominent research institute for research on coronaviruses. As a result, the risk of the coronavirus escaping from the lab could also be a possibility. Many scientists claim that COVID-19 has a natural origin but countries like US, UK, Japan have called for an intensive investigation into COVID origins in Chinese labs.
There is also a third scenario of origin; this is the theory that SARS2 leaped directly from bats to people, as opposed to SARS1 and MERS, which required an intermediate host. The virologist David Robertson, a key proponent, points out that SARS2 may infect a variety of animals other than humans. While remaining in bats, he believes the virus developed a generalist competence. Because the virus affects bats that are extensively scattered throughout southern and central China, the virus has plenty of opportunities to spread to humans, even if it only did so once. One flaw with this theory is that if SARS2 leaped from bats to humans in a single leap and hasn't altered much since then, it should still be capable of infecting bats. And it doesn't appear to be the case because even after researching on thousands of specimens no other bat was found affected with SARS2.
Doubts about Natural Emergence
Primarily natural emergence of coronavirus was the media’s preferred story, until about February 2021, when a World Health Organization official visited China for investigation but the Chinese government controlled and regulated their access in providing them crucial information, due to this incident what became evident was that the Chinese officials had no evidence to offer the WHO in support of the natural emergence theory.
The World Health Organization sent their team of investigators to study the origin of coronavirus but they found no animals having any strain of coronavirus at a market near Huanan. Additionally there were no strains in Chinese researchers who have researched tens of thousands of specimens. This whole scenario shows that there’s no proof of animal-human theory at Chinese markets.
The crucial point that comes in every mind is that Wuhan which is just 25-20km from the market which China has claimed to be the origin has such a few numbers of cases of coronavirus whereas countries like USA, Italy, and Germany which are around thousands of kilometers far from China have millions of cases as compared to China. In most nations the pandemic has followed a similar pattern; it also noted that countries like USA, Brazil followed a similar pattern, these countries usually have concentrated infections in few regions then gradually moving to other regions but the same didn’t happened in China.
Another surprising fact is that both SARS1 and MERS had left a huge amount of traces in the environment and the intermediary species of both the viruses was identified within few months. In case of SARS1 the intermediary host species was identified within four months of its outbreak and even in case of MERS it took around 8-9 months. In case of coronavirus despite an intensive research the Chinese researchers were unable to find neither the original host nor the intermediary species to which coronavirus may have transferred.
Allegations on Chinese Government by different Country Officials
The Chinese government is being suspected and facing accusations after the authorities erased crucial data regarding the lab which was suspected of being the source of COVID-19.
The UK government also demanded an independent investigation on how coronavirus originated and turned into a deadly disease. The British agencies believe that the pandemic may have started with a leak from a Chinese lab. The officials stated that they have few intelligence agents in China and they are trying to recruit them so they can speak freely without fear of being caught.
Nicolas Wade, a British journalist also made some noteworthy assertions:
· That despite the fact that it has been a year since the human-bat theory of COVID-19 transmission from the Chinese markets and still no evidence has been provided by China of the animals involved.
· If the intermediary agent of coronavirus was a bat that is not native to Wuhan, why hasn’t it infected any other animals or people handling it along its journey?
The former US President Donald Trump too, accused China of neglecting the virus and failed to contain the virus and allowing it to spread it to the world. He also proposed for a 10 trillion USD payment to compensate rest of the countries for the death and damage caused by their negligence. Joe Biden also ordered intelligence officials to prepare a detailed report in 90 days so as to find the real cause of COVID-19.
Constant Denial by Chinese Government
Chinese government is continuously refuting to the allegations made by the US government and many countries for the outbreak of COVID-19 and argued that the pandemic was most likely caused by several breakouts in different parts of the globe and also asserted that they fully cooperated with the WHO officials who visited Wuhan for the purpose of research .
The foreign minister of China Wang Yi also stated that when China was affected by the coronavirus, they took immediate actions to conduct an epidemiological study, identified the disease, and publicised important information regarding the coronavirus, adding that China took the important measures to fight and contain the virus. They believe that this was the reason why they were able to contain the virus so efficiently.
Russia backing China’s side stated that US is wrong in putting accusations over China for the outbreak of COVID-19 without providing any proof and also added that they can’t spoil the Moscow-Beijing relationship just by relying on China-bashing statements from the US.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions of lives over the world and the whole world is in a dilemma that how this pandemic originated. Neither the natural theory nor the lab escape theory can be ruled out. One and a half years has passed but there is no concrete evidence for either of these theories. As a result no clear cut conclusion can be drawn. With no concrete research and evidence everyone is developing their own conclusions and even after the research by the scientists from the US, China and even WHO showed no certain origin of the coronavirus despite the first case was reported in Wuhan. . However, supporters of lab escape appear to be able to explain all of the available information concerning SARS2 far more readily than supporters of natural emergence. The whole world is in a critical state now so the utmost importance should be to find the origin of COVID-19 so as to stop similar events in future and to predict such transmission, mutations and level of infectivity of such viruses.
Title Image: ORF
This article has been written by Tanishq Sharma. Tanishq is a 1st year law student at Gujarat National Law University.