As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the world, the fight against the virus remains the most pressing task for us all. Virus knows no borders. Only when countries pull together and fight by science's rules can we defeat the pandemic.
Origin tracing of COVID-19 is of great importance to effective prevention and control of the pandemic. It is a serious scientific subject about which scientific conclusions should and can only be made by scientists based on facts and rigorous analyses.
Several pandemics in human history have shown that the place where cases are first reported is not necessarily the place of origin of the virus. For instance, the "Spanish flu" that broke out toward the end of World War I did not originate in Spain. China was the first country to report COVID-19 cases at the end of 2019 and the first country to issue the global alert. But this does not mean that the virus originated in China.
China has attached great importance to and actively participated in global scientific cooperation in origin-tracing studies. Following the principles of being open, transparent, cooperative and science-based, we have twice invited experts from the World Health Organization to China for origin-tracing research. In March this year, members of the WHO expert team carried out 28 days of joint research in China, during which they visited all the places they wanted to go, met all the people they wanted to meet and reviewed all the data they wanted to see. Based on this research, the team released a comprehensive, authoritative, professional and scientific joint study report that came to the important conclusion that lab leak is "extremely unlikely" and that samples of early cases should be traced down globally.
It is the general consensus of the international academic and medical circles, including those of the U.S., that COVID-19 originated in nature. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), pointed out in his article published in March last year that "this novel coronavirus arose naturally" and "was not a product of purposeful manipulation in a lab." In a recent interview with CNBC, Collins reiterated that vast evidence has shown that the virus is "a naturally occurring virus" and "does not have the earmarks of having been created intentionally by human work." The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) also said in a statement carried in its official website in April last year that U.S. intelligence agencies agreed with the broad scientific consensus that COVID-19 was not man-made or genetically engineered. Since last year, many internationally renowned scientists have published papers in authoritative journals like the Lancet, Nature, and Cell noting that COVID-19 can only come from nature and cannot be artificially created, and that there is no scientific evidence to support the "lab leak theory" or to link the early cases to Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
Some people have been actively spreading the disinformation that COVID-19 originated from the WIV. They are doing so to politicize origin tracing of the virus, stigmatize China and achieve ulterior political purpose.
The P4 laboratory of WIV has stable and reliable biosecurity protection facilities and a complete and strict biosecurity management system recognized by the international scientific community. In an interview with Bloomberg, Australian virologist Danielle Anderson, who had worked at the Wuhan P4 laboratory until the end of 2019, said that the WIV laboratory has the same strict security management procedures and requirements as any similar laboratory in the world. In fact, the Wuhan P4 laboratory has never had any pathogen leak or personal infection accidents since it was officially put into operation in 2018. As of Dec. 30, 2019, the WIV had never handled, stored or studied COVID-19, nor had it engineered or leaked the virus. So far none of its staff has been infected by the virus. Some claimed that three researchers from the WIV visited a hospital in November 2019 with symptoms consistent with those of COVID-19. This is pure fabrication. Anderson also unequivocally confirmed in the interview that none of her colleagues working in the lab during the same period of time was infected with COVID-19, nor had she herself ever been infected.
Some media claimed that in 2012 several miners in China's Yunnan Province fell ill, most likely from COVID-19 infection. The WIV conducted multiple tests on the serum samples of these miners that year, and no bat coronavirus was detected, which proved that the Yunnan miners' disease was not in any way related to COVID-19.
Some conspiracy theorists claimed that bat coronavirus RaTG13 may be the origin of COVID-19. But the fact is RaTG13 is a set of viral sequences detected by the WIV team in 2013 from biological samples collected from Mojiang, Yunnan. The institute has never cultivated any live virus, and RaTG13 was not found in the miners' serum samples and has nothing to do with their illness. According to an article published in Science magazine on July 24, 2020, the evolutionary distance between RaTG13 and COVID-19 is a few decades, which is a very long evolutionary relationship. Chinese scientists have explained all these facts to WHO experts through various channels.
In fact, more and more studies and evidence from around the world have indicated that before confirmed cases were reported in Wuhan, COVID-19 might have appeared in many parts of the world, including Europe and the Americas. This has made it highly necessary to continue with the search for early cases in a wider areas of the world, and to conduct virus origin tracing in multiple places.
China's position on global origin tracing is consistent and clear-cut. That is origin tracing is a scientific matter; China supports and will continue to participate in scientific tracing, but firmly opposes political manipulation, presumption of guilt and stigmatization of China, because these are not acts of origin tracing, but spread of "political virus," which China will never accept and will be opposed by the vast majority of countries in the world.
Given the current situation, countries in the world need to strengthen solidarity and pull the strength of scientists and all other forces to fight the pandemic as the top priority. It is important that we get rid of political interference and conduct origin tracing actively and prudently in multiple countries and regions around the world, so as to identify the most likely source of the virus at an early date and prevent recurrence of similar outbreaks to the best of our ability.
Zhao Jian, based in Chicago, is consul general of the People's Republic of China.