"Is the debate being politicized by China and the US as part and parcel of their superpower rivalry?"
For the US, it quite possibly originated from Wuhan City in China. But for Beijing, a likely source is Fort Detrick in Maryland.
If that's how the issue regarding the provenance of the COVID-19 pandemic is being framed, is the debate being politicized by both sides as part and parcel of superpower rivalry?
But let's allow the World Health Organization (WHO) to reveal its findings based on its own investigation.
Following a month-long fact-finding mission in China, a WHO team looking into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic concluded that the virus probably originated in bats and passed to people through an intermediate animal.
The WHO team established that the first person known to have COVID-19 was an office worker in Wuhan with no recent travel history, who began showing symptoms on 8 December 2019, according to Peter Ben Embarek, a food-safety scientist at the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland who led the investigation. But the virus was probably spreading in the city before that, because it was well-established by later that month, he said.
WHO team member Hung Nguyen-Viet, an environment and food-safety researcher at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, said the team identified ten stalls at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan selling wildlife, either wild or farmed, that could have carried the virus into the market from farms in southern China.”¨ WHO team member Peter Daszak, president of the non-profit research organization Ecohealth Alliance in New York City, said the farms should be investigated to see whether there were infections in the animals or among workers. He also wanted to know what animals were sold in other Wuhan markets. When the team interviewed the first person known to have COVID-19, he mentioned that his parents had visited a local community wet market, said Daszak.
The explosive way in which the outbreak took off in Wuhan in December suggests that the virus was probably introduced through the wildlife trade, according to Daszak, adding that future testing should focus on farmed wild animals.
The WHO investigation looked closely at alternative hypotheses on when and where the pandemic arose, concluding that the virus probably didn’t spread widely before December or escape from a laboratory. “We could show the virus was circulating in the market as early as December 2019,” said Embarek, who co-led the investigation. He added that this investigation is far from the last. “A lot of good leads were suggested in this report, and we anticipate that many, if not all of them, will be followed through because we owe it to the world to understand what happened, why and how to prevent it from happening again.”
So what was the conclusion of the WHO report?
The study concluded that it’s highly unlikely that the coronavirus escaped from a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Beijing vehemently disputes the lab-leak theory and instead points a finger at American biological research institutions, such as the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. The institute is a biodefense center that studies germs and toxins that could be used to threaten the military or public health, and also investigates disease outbreaks. It carries out research projects for government agencies, universities and drug companies, which pay for the work. It has about 900 employees.
Beijing wants Fort Detrick lab to open its doors for an international investigation, since international experts have already visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The USAMRIID was temporarily shut down in July 2019 after a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) inspection showed "ongoing infrastructure issues with wastewater decontamination." CDC officials refused to release further information after citing "national security reasons."
Amid the intensified word war between Washington and Beijing on the origins of COVID-19, the Global Times initiated an online petition urging the WHO to probe the Fort Detrick biolab. The petition was signed by 25 million Chinese.
The petition website was reported to have suffered severe cyber-attacks from multiple US IP addresses as signatures approached 10 million. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said at a press conference on July 26 that the United States owes Chinese citizens an explanation on why it remains silent on opening the Fort Detrick lab to an investigation and why it launched cyber-attacks on an online petition demanding that the WHO should investigate the lab. Be that as it may, we agree with the view of Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, that the conspiracies about the origins of COVID-19 are spreading like viruses, and may cause impacts as severe as what the pandemic has done.
We likewise concur with the view that while origin tracing of COVID-19 is important but complicated, it requires close cooperation of scientists from all over the world, as well as joint efforts by governments and peoples to find a lasting solution to the pandemic.