By: Avanti Giridharan
However, China now claims that the virus actually originated in India, and possibly Bangladesh or Pakistan.
A team from China’s top science institution: ‘The Chinese Academy of Sciences’, in a paper argues that SARS-CoV-2 likely originated in India in summer 2019 itself.
The scientists associated with the academy are claiming that Wuhan is the place where the first human to human transmission of SARS-CoV-2 happened. But before the virus had spread to Wuhan, it was already spreading in previous transmission between humans in India, says the paper.
The paper adds that “The least mutated strain’s geographic information and strain diversity suggest that the Indian subcontinent might be the place where the first human to human transmission of the virus occurred, a few months prior to the Wuhan outbreak”.
The paper hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet. It uses the method of ‘Phylogenetic Analysis’. It’s a technique in which scientists study the mutation of a virus to trace the origins of the disease caused by the said virus, in this case the Coronavirus.
According to the critical analysis by Chinese expert officials, this method has ruled out Wuhan as the site of origin of the Coronavirus. The paper has stated that US, Greece, Australia, Greece, Australia, Italy, Czech Republic, Russia and Serbia as potential transmission sites.
Chinese officials have declared India to be the breeding ground of the Coronavirus. The team has further gone on to say that since India and Bangladesh have recorded the lowest number of mutations and happen to be neighbors, it’s possible that the Indian subcontinent is where the transmissions and origins happened.
Calculating the time it would take the virus to mutate, and comparing it to the samples taken in the region, China has also claimed that the virus emerged much earlier than November, but July or August 2019 in the Indian Subcontinent. Earlier, China had named Italy and the US as the first sites of transmission.
They added, “From May to June 2019, the second-longest recorded heat-wave had rampaged in northern-central India and Pakistan, which created a serious water crisis in this region. The water shortage made wild animals, such as monkeys, engage in the deadly fight over water among each other and would have surely increased the chance of human-wild animal interactions.”
Blaming a ‘less efficient’ healthcare system and ‘imperfect’ hygiene conditions, the Chinese scientists say, “As known for all, the hygiene condition is imperfect and the public medical system is less efficient in the subcontinent. Thus, it is conceivable that a virus with flu-like symptoms could spread undetectably for several months there.”
These statements come at the time of heightened tensions between the two countries. A long-drawn-out stand-off between Indian and Chinese armed forces along the ‘Line of Actual Control’ in Ladakh has led to strained relations between both the countries.
The Prime Minister of Nepal had also blamed India for the spread of COVID-19 in May.
These claims have been debunked by experts in the West.
David Robertson from Glasgow University has labelled these claims as ‘flawed’ and something which did not add to the understanding of the Coronavirus. He emphasized, “The author’s approach of identifying the “least mutated” virus sequences is… inherently biased. The authors have also ignored the extensive epidemiological data available that shows clear emergence in China and that the virus spread from there. This paper adds nothing to our understanding of SARS-CoV-2.” He continued by saying that it “added nothing” to their understanding of Covid and that the Chinese approach was “inherently biased”.
Expert Marc Suchard from the University of California stated, “Picking the viral sequence that appears to have the least number of differences to the others in an arbitrary collection is unlikely to yield the progenitor”.
Other official sources notably from The UK and New Zealand have also supported these claims. The general consensus among the experts is that the first known trace of the virus was found in China.
Many people have accused China of projecting their own faults on to other countries. Others are outraged that instead of taking responsibility, the Chinese Government chooses to blame other nations.