An investigation by the World Health Organisation (WHO) into the origins of Covid-19 is now well and truly underway in China, after months of political back-and-forth. The investigation was announced in November last year, Nature magazine reported, but was initially resisted by Chinese authorities.
Many researchers believe the virus originated in bats but aren’t sure how it jumped to humans. Looking for the “patient zero” of the bat world will be incredibly hard, and probes like this can take years.
But knowing where the virus originated is key to preventing a pandemic like this one from reoccurring, researchers say.
The WHO’s search included the meat and animal market visited by some of the early Covid-19 patients. Samples from animal carcasses at the market, however, show no signs of the coronavirus. But the virus was found in some samples taken from drains and sewage.
A good relationship between China’s government and the WHO is essential to the ongoing investigation.
And that’s the problem. It’s taken weeks of negotiations between the WHO and China for the investigation to even begin. WHO scientists this week arrived in Wuhan – where the virus was first detected in late 2019 – the BBC reported.
The BBC also reported that Chinese resistance to the probe stemmed from fear of being blamed for the pandemic. They didn’t cover themselves with glory in how they initially handled the outbreak.
Scientists, however, say the investigation is not political, and while no theories are off the table, most scientists believe the virus emerged as a “natural event”. Scientists visited a lab this week, sparking conspiracy theories that they believed the virus emerged in one. But The New York Times said the scientists had reiterated: the event was probably a natural one.
The WHO’s strictly apolitical stance amid a global climate where countries increasingly blame each other is extremely important. As we report this week, SA has been unfairly blamed for a variant of Covid-19 first identified here. Sticking to the science, and leaving politics aside, is the best hope we have for ending the pandemic.