No clarity on coronavirus origin

The probe must continue because of the scepticism surrounding WHO-China’s inconclusive findings

AuthorPublished: 4th Apr 2021  11:53 pm

Even over a year after the outbreak of the deadliest pandemic, the world is nowhere closer to finding out the exact origin of the novel coronavirus that has so far claimed over 2.8 million lives and crippled the global economy. If anyone had pinned hopes on the long-awaited joint study by the teams from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and China to clear the air on the source of the pathogen, its outcome comes as a disappointment. The results are inconclusive and confusing. So much so that WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus himself has raised doubts over the authenticity of the study, saying that Beijing withheld certain data from investigators. It is hugely significant for the head of the global health body, involved in the joint investigation, to say that all the hypotheses were still on the table and that there was a need for further probe. At the same time, there is not enough evidence to support the accidental lab leak theory. Any unbiased scientific probe requires the scientists to work without external political pressures. But, unfortunately, China has failed to come clean on the allegations that it had suppressed the information about the pandemic and misled the global scientific community. It must be pointed out that the United States, along with 13 other countries, have accused Beijing of failing to give proper access to the international team of investigators. The WHO-China joint study simply presents a summary of each hypothesis, without coming to any definite conclusions. This leaves none any wiser regarding the origin of the virus.

There have been allegations that China tried to cover up instances of the Covid-19 infection initially, despite warnings from doctors in the Wuhan region. In fact, the epidemiological modelling suggested that the virus was circulating among people months before the first case was officially reported in December 2019. The scientific community learned, to their disbelief, how the Chinese authorities tried to silence Li Wenliang, a senior doctor who warned about the mystery infection at a time when the spread could have possibly been contained. This has deepened the world’s distrust of China when it comes to handling the disease spread. For long, Beijing tried to stall international investigations into the origin and spread of the virus. The inordinate delay in initiating the probe rightly drew flak from the international community. And, there was no transparency in the whole process, though the entire world was looking up to the WHO to provide definite answers. The hunt for pandemic’s origin must continue because of the widespread scepticism surrounding the joint team’s inconclusive findings. Getting to the bottom of the matter is critical to help nations prepare better for such biological catastrophes in future.