Microscopic killer and the search for Covid answers

There are nearly eight-million reasons why the world deserves to know how the pandemic started

Mystery still surrounds the origins of Covid-19 after the deadly virus first surfaced in the Chinese city of Wuhan more than three years ago.

At least 756 million people have been infected globally since the outbreak in 2019 turned into a pandemic with the death toll hovering close to eight million

But now there are growing concerns that the world will never know what really happened amid tension between the World Health Organization and China’s ruling Communist Party. 

“The WHO has shelved the second phase of its much-anticipated scientific investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, citing ongoing challenges over attempts to conduct crucial studies in China,” Nature, the respected British scientific journal, reported this week.

Microscopic killer:

  • Solving the riddle of where the SARS-CoV-2 virus came from is no nearer to being solved.
  • The first phase of the WHO investigation in Wuhan two years ago raised more questions than answers.
  • China’s apparent refusal to hand over more detailed data threatens to leave the inquiry in limbo.
  • In turn, this has left two scenarios of how the virus spread.
  • One has centered on the virus naturally spilling over from bats to an intermediary animal and then to humans via a wet market.
  • The other is that it escaped after a laboratory accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Delve deeper: Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO expert leading the agency’s response to the pandemic, was quoted by Nature as saying “there is no phase two” of the investigation.

China stands accused of underreporting the number of Covid deaths.

What happened next: “The politics across the world of this really hampered progress on understanding the origins [of Covid-19],” she added, according to the Nature report.

But wait a minute … On Wednesday, Van Kerkhove “responded angrily” when asked about the Nature article, according to Agence France-Presse.

What did she say: Van Kerkhove attributed “the interpretation that the WHO had shelved its origins search to ‘an error in reporting,’ adding, ‘the WHO has not abandoned studying the origins of Covid-19’,” the AFP news agency reported.

Big picture: “In its March 2021 report, the [WHO] team concluded that it was ‘extremely unlikely’ that the virus had escaped from a laboratory. But the inclusion of the lab-incident scenario in the final report was a key point of contention for Chinese researchers and officials,” Nature reported.

Between the lines: China also stands accused of underreporting the number of Chinese people that have died since President Xi Jinping ditched his “zero-Covid” policy in December. Officially, the death toll is around 83,000, even though academics estimate that one million to 1.5 million people died during the Lunar New Year surge. 

China Factor comment: There are nearly eight-million reasons why the world deserves to know how the Covid-19 pandemic started. If China is refusing to cooperate by denying access to crucial data, the WHO must make that perfectly clear. Fears of upsetting Beijing and China’s scientific community should not be a priority. Bringing closure to the relatives of the nearly eight million dead should be.