While scientists around the world are analyzing and studying how the SARS-CoV-2 virus — which generated the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic — could have been born, China continues to hinder and hamper research into the origin of Covid-19.
According to a Washington Post report published on Monday, October 10, the World Health Organization (WHO) requested permission from the Asian giant to investigate bat caves in China’s Hubei province, but the authorities refused to accept the request.
“undreds of caves are spread throughout the mountains of Enshi prefecture, an agricultural corner of China’s Hubei province. The most majestic, Tenglong, or “flying dragon,” is one of China’s largest karst cave systems, spanning 37 miles of passages that contain numerous bats,” reads the WaPo report.
“Nearby are small farms that collectively housed hundreds of thousands of wild mammals such as civets, ferret badgers and raccoon dogs before the pandemic, farm licenses show — animals that scientists say can be intermediate hosts for viruses to cross over from bats to humans,” it details.
The WHO believes that investigating “China’s wildlife farming areas such as Enshi” is an important step in the search for the source of the pandemic; however, the Chinese Communist Party is undermining the UN agency’s efforts.
Why is it important to investigate these caves in Hubei?
According to The Washington Post, ” Beijing has been less than eager to find answers in Hubei, as it touts its own theory that the virus may have originated overseas.”
This is serious because, the story notes, scientists have called for intensified investigations into animal species that may be “intermediate hosts” for the virus. Should a Covid-19 animal host be found that harbors bat coronaviruses and can potentially infect humans, natural transmission could be proven.
“Other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS were carried by intermediate hosts: civets and camels, respectively. Wuhan markets with early outbreaks had sold live wild animals,” explained the WaPo.
Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, told the newspaper that it is important to “find out more about what viruses are circulating in those bats” in the Enshi caves” because that is the “kind of proximity of farmed animals and bats that could be carrying coronaviruses is exactly the kind of thing we worry about.”
In addition, an unnamed WaPo source “with knowledge of the supply chains of Wuhan markets,” said that “live animals sold at markets in Wuhan were sourced from Hubei, particularly Enshi and Xianning prefectures, as well as from Hunan and Jiangxi provinces.”
The report notes that China, moreover, stepped up efforts to ban the illegal breeding and sale of wild animals after they detected a case of “rare pneumonia” in December 2019 at a Wuhan wet market.
“A crackdown on Enshi wildlife trade in wet markets began on December 23, 2019 (…), eight days before China publicly acknowledged the new virus. The Enshi breakthrough doesn’t mean officials found anything unusual: It could have been preemptive, as rumors emerged of market vendors falling mysteriously ill in Wuhan. But it does mean that evidence about Enshi’s wildlife trade was erased before the world knew about the existence of a new coronavirus.”
Two strong theories, but few certainties about the origin of Covid-19
Although 19 months have passed since the WHO declared a pandemic due to the outbreak of Covid-19 worldwide, there is still no certainty as to how the coronavirus, whose first cases were detected in Wuhan, could have originated.
There are two main theories regarding the origin of the virus, the first — which is strongly supported by a large part of the scientific community — is based on natural transmission, where it is thought that the virus passed from bats to humans. The second, which has been gaining strength as a result of the impossibility of proving the theory of natural transmission and the revelations of the dangerous experiments carried out at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), is related to a possible laboratory accident as the point of origin of the pandemic.
None of the theories are proven, however, the lab leak theory is gaining popularity for different reasons: the media stopped calling it a “conspiracy“, China has been especially reluctant to let independent institutions investigate the WIV and the bat experiments that were performed at this institute, such as the gain of function, where they genetically altered viruses that could potentially affect humans.
The bat experiments conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were supported and partially funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) through the non-profit EcoHealth Alliance. Anthony Fauci himself admitted the funding to an Appropriations subcommittee of the House of Representatives.
Author’s note: after the story was published, The Washington Post corrected its article and said that a WHO spokesman, “Tarik Jasarevic, said that although the organization suggested the need to trace back the wildlife trade from markets in Wuhan, there was no specific request to visit the Hubei area.”