China encourages WHO to refrain from using COVID-19 origins-tracing as a political instrument.

After some in the international organization criticized China for lacking transparency in the sharing of information about the origins of COVID-19, China has urged World Health Organization (WHO) officials to return to science and fairness and not to be subject to or willing to descend to become a tool of politicization of certain countries. According to experts, using distorted and deficient bits of information to disparage China over the origins of COVID-19 would only damage the international organization’s reputation and impede investigations into the virus.

The next step of origins-tracing should focus on species like bats that are more likely to carry coronaviruses, according to an epidemiologist connected to China’s COVID-19 origins-tracing task force. Since China has spent years examining virus-carrying animals, it is now up to other nations who may be connected to the virus to do comparable research in an effort to identify the virus’s origins.

Chinese researchers recently revealed that COVID-19 virus strains detected in samples from the Huanan Seafood Market are more likely to have originated from humans, according to their most recent results in the origins-tracing of COVID-19, which were presented at a press conference on Saturday. Additionally, scientists reported that before the epidemic in December 2019, there were no COVID-19 antibodies found in the blood of donors in Wuhan.

These results were published amid fresh allegations from certain WHO officials that China had withheld information on the origins-tracing of the COVID-19 virus. In response, Zhou Lei, a researcher from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), said at the press conference on Saturday that she is shocked by these comments as a Chinese scientist who participated in the China-WHO joint origins-tracing expedition in 2021.

According to Zhou, Chinese scientists contributed all data and information during the collaborative origins-tracing effort, including details on more than 76,000 early instances of potential and probable COVID infections in Wuhan.

The WHO and Chinese specialists at the time jointly endorsed the findings of our extensive collaborative investigation and research, she said.

Zhou said that the WHO is a highly significant institution, a recognized professional authority by the worldwide society, and that its scientific character, objectivity, and rigor are unquestionable.

She said, “I believe if such a presumptuous accusation is made, the WHO’s credibility is at risk.”

WHO made the charge after the publication of a fresh COVID-19 study by China CDC researchers on April 5 in the scientific journal Nature based on samples gathered from Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Market. The relevant data was posted on the Global Initiative in Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID) website before the research’ formal release, but it was afterwards purportedly erased, sparking widespread rumors.

Chinese researchers and the GISAID database never deleted the in question data, and the data access links used for journal review have always been present, according to Liu Jun, a researcher from the China CDC and a member of the WHO-China joint expert team, who clarified the facts in an interview with the Global Times on Friday.

Giving details of the origins-tracing research, Tong Yigang, dean of College of Life Science and Technology of Beijing University of Chemical Technology and group leader of the Chinese Animals and Environment team of the WHO-China Joint Mission on SARS-CoV-2 origin study, stated at the Saturday conference that all animal samples, or about 400, tested negative for COVID-19 according to genetic sequencing of over 1,300 samples collected at Huanan Seafood Market from January to March 2020.

According to Tong, the three virus strains that were recovered from more than 900 environmental samples obtained from the market were almost equivalent to the viral sequences of the patients at the time. This suggests that these virus strains most likely originated from people.

Prior to the appearance of COVID-19 cases in Wuhan, China investigated stored sera from healthy blood donors, having examined 43,850 blood samples supplied by 30,000 individuals, according to Zhou. These blood donors from Wuhan tested negative for COVID-19-related antibodies before December 2019, according to the findings.

These findings confirm the phase I WHO-China joint origins-tracing mission’s initial conclusion that no early cases had been found locally in Wuhan before December 2019; she added.

Next move

Investigating animals is the next most critical duty to determine where the virus originates. According to Tong, molecular biology may be used to determine if a certain animal was the source of the coronavirus if it is discovered that such animals are coronavirus carriers. The task’s nearest goal, he said, is a bat.

However, according to Tong, no such creatures have yet been discovered. He said that because China has conducted a great deal of study and analysis on animals that carry viruses throughout the years, we have a clear picture of the situation there. According to Tong, “Comparatively, some countries, particularly Southeast Asian countries near us, have done very little in this regard, so I believe such work should be done in their countries.”

Other eminent epidemiologists from across the globe share his viewpoint. According to Peter Daszak, director of the EcoHealth Alliance in New York and participant in the joint China-WHO coronavirus origin expedition that visited Wuhan in 2021, Southeast Asia will be the site of their next inquiry.

“A virus from Thailand as well as ones from Japan and Cambodia were close to SARS-CoV-2. The EcoHealth Alliance has already begun its effort to determine where they came from, according to Daszak.

At the press briefing on Saturday, Zhou said that “we really really want the origins-tracing to be global tracing,” and that he hoped experts could examine all feasible nations and regions to locate the virus’s origin rather than exaggerating and concentrating on Wuhan.

To assist the world discover the right solution, Zhou added, “We believe that the WHO, the recognized and worldwide organization, can really gather the entire scientific community to do the task with a scientific, rigorous, and fair approach.