In what comes as a purported attempt at shifting global blame for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic outbreak, a group of scientists in China have now claimed that it is highly likely that COVID-19 originated in India in the summer of 2019.
A report, produced by a team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, have claimed that COVID-19 may have "emerged" in India or Bangladesh, given the geographical proximity of the two countries to China, where it was first "detected".
The report aims to establish a likely origin point for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus by tracking minuscule variations in the virus’s DNA every time it replicates itself.
Besides Bangladesh and India, the report also names seven other countries — Australia, Russia, Italy, USA, Greece, Serbia, and the Czech Republic — as likely origin points of the virus.
However, it names India and Bangladesh as the most likely locations of origin of the coronavirus due to a "heat wave" in the early summer of 2019 which "increased interactions between humans and animals".
“From May to June 2019, the second-longest recorded heat wave had rampaged in northern-central India and Pakistan, which created a serious water crisis in this region. The water shortage made wild animals such as monkeys engage in the deadly fight over water among each other and would have surely increased the chance of human-wild animal interactions," the report states.
It posits that the increase in this interaction due to the "unusual heat wave" may be associated with the transmission of the coronavirus.
“We speculated that the [animal to human] transmission of SARS-CoV-2 might be associated with this unusual heat wave,” the report states.
The coronavirus cases emerged in Wuhan in December last year before turning into a global pandemic with the worldwide death toll crossing over 1.4 million.
The report shifts blame from upon China by speculating that the Wuhan epidemic is "only a part of" the "inevitable" COVID-19 pandemic that "could have spread to several countries before first being detected in China."
However, this claim is disputed by several leading scientists and infectious diseases experts in the world, as well as the global consensus that the first case was identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019.
An Express report quotes David Robertson, a Glasgow University expert, as saying, "The author's approach of identifying the “least mutated” virus sequences is... inherently biased."
The report further elaborates him saying that the paper "adds nothing to our understanding of SARS-CoV-2" and that it "ignored the extensive epidemiological data available that shows clear emergence in China and that the virus spread from there."
Other genealogy experts have also rubbished the report by saying that picking the viral sequence with least number of mutations in an arbitrary collection is unlikely to yield the progenitor.
China besides denying the US allegations that the virus emerged from a secretive bio-lab in Wuhan also refuted allegations that it emanated from a wet market in the city from bats or pangolins before infecting humans.
The move is being seen by global health experts as a means of China passing on the blame to other nations for its own poor initial response to COVID-19, resulting in an unprecedented global pandemic of such scale.
In May, the World Health Assembly (WHA), the governing body of the 194-member states of the WHO, approved a resolution to set up an independent inquiry to conduct an impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of the international response as well as that of WHO.
It also asked the WHO to investigate the "source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population".
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