China has denied entry to a team of World Health Organization (WHO) experts who were supposed to come into the country to investigate the origins of the coronavirus.
The news comes amid growing suspicions of a cover-up in the country believed to have originated in late 2019, though its origins remain highly competitive as China remains determined to control the narrative.
The head of the World Health Organization said he was "disappointed" that Chinese officials had not yet finalized permits for the team of experts to arrive.
A year after the outbreak began, WHO experts should pay a highly politicized visit to China to explore the origins of the coronavirus. The trip was accompanied by allegations of cover-up, conspiracy and fear of being whitewashed.
WHO said China has given permission for its experts to visit. A team of 10 is expected to arrive this week. Before most of them could start their journey, however, they were faced with roadblocks and Beijing had not yet allowed them entry.
Pictured: Workers in protective suits walk past Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan, China's Hubei Province, in April 2020. The Covid-19 outbreak, which triggered the global pandemic, is said to have started in Wuhan. The first case was reported on December 31, 2019
WHO Emergency Director Michael Ryan said Tuesday the problem was a lack of visa releases, hoping it was a "logistical and bureaucratic problem that can be resolved very quickly".
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, said in a rare criticism of Beijing that members of the international science team had started traveling to China from their home countries in the past 24 hours under an agreement between the WHO and the Chinese government.
"Today we learned that Chinese officials have not yet completed the necessary permits for the team to arrive in China," he said at a press conference in Geneva on Tuesday.
"I am very disappointed with this news because two members had already started their journey and others could not travel at the last minute," Tedros told reporters in Geneva on a rare reprimand from Beijing from the UN organization.
He added that he "was in contact with high-level Chinese officials" and that he "made it clear again that the mission was a priority for WHO.
“I have been assured that China is speeding up the internal, earliest possible deployment process. We aim to start the mission as soon as possible, ”he said.
Earlier this week, the Chinese authorities refused to confirm the exact dates and details of the visit, a sign of the continued sensitivity of their mission.
Covid-19 was first discovered in downtown Wuhan in late 2019 before it seeped beyond China's borders and wreaked havoc around the world, killing over 1.8 million lives and disrupting the economy.
But its origins remain highly contested, lost in a fog of accusations and suspicions from the international community – as well as concealment by Chinese authorities determined to keep control of their virus narrative.
An international team of experts has set out for China to investigate the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, Beijing has yet to grant the required access. Pictured: A television recording, taped January 5, 2021, showing WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a press conference on Covid-19 criticizing China for not allowing the team to enter
The WHO team has promised to focus on science, particularly how the coronavirus jumped from animals – presumably bats – to humans.
"The point here is not to find a guilty country or a guilty authority," said Fabian Leendertz from the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's central epidemic control center, which will be part of the team, to the new AFP agency at the end of December.
"This is about understanding what happened in order to avoid this in the future and to reduce the risk."
However, doubts have been expressed about what the WHO mission can reasonably expect and what government pressure it will exert, raising fears that the mission will serve to stamp and not question China's official history.
The upcoming visit won't be the first time Covid-19 has brought WHO teams to China. One mission last year focused on the authorities' response rather than where the virus came from, while another over the summer laid the groundwork for the upcoming investigation.
Visitors visit an exhibit on fighting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak at the Wuhan Parlor Convention Center, which previously served as a makeshift hospital for COVID-19 patients in Wuhan
But this time the WHO will get caught in a quagmire of competing interests stuck between accusing Western nations and a Chinese leadership determined to show that their secret and hierarchical political system was used to contain, not spread, the outbreak.
It is unclear who the experts can meet when they arrive in Wuhan to understand the first days and weeks of the pandemic.
In China, whistleblowers have been silenced and citizen journalists have been jailed, including a 37-year-old woman who was jailed for four years last week for video reporting from the city during her extended lockdown.
Outside responsibility for the virus has been armed.
US President Donald Trump used the virus as a political stick against the great power rival China from the start.
He accused Beijing of trying to hide the outbreak of the so-called "China virus" and reiterated unsubstantiated rumors that it leaked from a Wuhan laboratory.
Trump then pulled the US out of WHO, accusing it of gently treating China, a nation with which he was also embroiled in a bitter trade war.
Critics say a blizzard of allegations has attempted to divert attention from Washington's botched response to a crisis that has killed more than 355,000 Americans to date.
Without them, one said, "many of the situations we had in January 2020 would not have played out as they were."
"It's geopolitics that … puts the world in this position," Ilona Kickbusch of the Global Health Center at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva told AFP.
China has since cleverly reshaped its version of events, celebrating its "extraordinary success" in containing the pandemic within its borders and restarting its economy.
Beijing now says it will help save poorer nations, promise cheap vaccines and cast doubts that the virus even originated in China.
People use phones to film and photograph fireworks in the sky during a New Year's Day celebration in a park in Wuhan, Hubei province, on Jan. 1, 2021
Chinese doctors recorded at least double the number of coronavirus cases Beijing reported to the world in February
China has fallen as much as half below its coronavirus cases and deaths in the early stages of the pandemic. Leaked documents were revealed in December.
Beijing has long been accused of failing to adequately report its coronavirus numbers, but the data gives for the first time a glimpse of the scale of the problem.
For example, on Feb.10, China reported 2,478 new cases of the virus across the country – but leaked data shows that 5,918 cases were recorded in Hubei province alone on the same day.
Meanwhile, on March 7, Hubei officially reported a cumulative death toll of 2,986, but documents show that it actually stood at 3,456.
The official figures, reported around the world, downplayed the severity of the outbreak at a time when world leaders were trying to develop their own response strategies – leaving many unprepared for what was to come.
China has been able to use the numbers and its authoritarian powers to block tough and early, all but eradicate the virus and mean its economies have grown this year while underprepared Western democracies devastated their economies to have.
On February 10, China reported a total of 2,478 cases in its daily report published worldwide. Leaked documents show the total was 5,918 in Hubei province alone
On February 17, Hubei Province reported 93 new deaths to the public. In fact, documents show it was 196
Other inconsistencies in the data include February 17, when Hubei officially reported 93 deaths from the virus, while documents show a death toll of 196.
On March 7, Hubei officially reported 83 cases, but 115 are recorded in the leaked papers.
Another report also recorded the deaths of six health care workers from coronavirus as of February 10, which were never publicly disclosed.
Data also suggests that the number of cases recorded in 2019 when the virus first appeared was 200.
So far in 2019, China has publicly recognized only 44 cases – which it reported to WHO on January 3 as "pneumonia of unknown etiology".
The 117-page documents were given to CNN by a whistleblower at the Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which was at the epicenter of the outbreak.
The whistleblower described himself as a "patriot" who was "motivated to uncover a censored truth and to honor colleagues who had spoken out too".
In addition to the actual case and death toll, the documents reveal for the first time that Hubei was in the middle of a major flu epidemic at the time of the coronavirus outbreak.
As of March 7, Hubei had officially recorded 2,986 deaths from the virus, but leaked documents show that the toll was actually 3,456
On March 7, Hubei province, where the Wuhan epicenter was located, reported 83 new infections to the public. Leaked documents add up to 115
The province reported up to 20 times as many seasonal flu cases as in the cities of Yichang and Xianning in December 2019.
Wuhan, where the coronavirus would first appear, was the third worst hit.
Data also shows that large numbers of flu cases, including in Wuhan, were diagnosed as "unknown causes" as early as December 2nd.
The researchers told CNN that it is possible that some of these cases were misdiagnosed coronavirus cases, but there is no way to know for sure because the data is simply not available.
Dr. Amesh Adalja of Johns Hopkins University, who was at the forefront of the virus's prosecution, said, "They were only testing what they knew."
China claims it conducted studies looking for cases of coronavirus in Wuhan before December 2019 but couldn't find any.
While there's no evidence that the outbreaks are related, the flu epidemic has likely overwhelmed health officials and failed to prepare for a new disease to emerge.
The documents also reveal a mess among China's early testing regimes that contributed to the underreporting of cases.
According to the data, nucleic acid tests, which were originally used to diagnose the virus, only worked 30 to 50 percent of the time.
Documents also indicate that Hubei Province was in the middle of a flu epidemic when the coronavirus emerged. The hospitals were underfunded and the staff demoralized (file picture).
This meant that scientists were often forced to use other methods – lung scans, for example – to diagnose patients who were sure they had the virus but who repeatedly tested negative.
However, due to the way the Chinese reporting system works, only those cases that were confirmed by the test were publicly reported.
All other cases were classified as "suspected" or "clinically diagnosed".
While the bureaucrats knew both numbers and possibly knew the problems with testing, they chose – at least initially – only to report cases with a positive test.
China started adding clinically diagnosed cases to its total in mid-February, but by that point the virus had already spread well beyond its own borders.
Yanzhong Huang, a Council on Foreign Relations member who specializes in public health in China, told CNN, “It was clear they made mistakes.
“Not only errors that occur when dealing with a new type of virus, but also bureaucratic and politically motivated errors in dealing with it.
"These had global consequences."
The early testing regimen also suffered tremendous delays, with the average time from onset of disease to diagnosis being 23 days.
This meant that China's official daily numbers fell three weeks short of reality, while affecting its own ability to respond to the crisis.
Internal documents also show that Hubei health officials were underfunded and suffered from employee motivation issues when the pandemic broke out.
And while Beijing boasted that it invested heavily in infectious disease early detection during the SARS epidemic in 2003, the reality was that the system was slow, underfunded, and burdened with bureaucracy.
The world needs to investigate all the growing evidence leaked Covid from a Wuhan laboratory, writes IAN BIRRELL
By Ian Birrell for the Sunday Mail
It's been a year since the world learned of a deadly new respiratory disease in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
Little is known, however, about how and why the virus spread with such devastating consequences.
It can almost certainly be traced back to bats. However, we do not know how this pathogen, which has developed an extraordinary ability to infect and has so damaged various body organs, made the leap into humans.
A World Health Organization investigation into the origins of the coronavirus is finally underway, but it has been accused of meekly standing on China's agenda by recruiting patsy scientists and relying on Beijing's dubious data.
Now experts around the world are getting louder and louder that no stone should be left unturned in this investigation – and that it must include a key element of a hunt that has all the hallmarks of a thriller novel.
It's been a year since the world learned of a deadly new respiratory disease in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, writes Ian Birrell. Pictured: the Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli, who was referred to as "Batwoman" at the Wuhan Institute of Virology
Why did China build a virus laboratory in Wuhan?
Chinese officials decided to build the Wuhan Institute of Virology after the country was hit by a SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003.
SARS, another type of coronavirus, killed 775 people and infected more than 8,000 people worldwide in an epidemic that lasted about eight months.
It took the Chinese 15 years to complete the project, which cost a total of 300 million yuan (£ 34 million). The French helped design the building.
The Crown Jewel is a four-story laboratory with the highest biological safety of P4.
It is the most advanced laboratory of its kind in China.
The construction of the laboratory was completed in 2015 and officially opened on January 5, 2018 after passing various safety inspections.
China Youth Online described the importance of the P4 laboratory, calling it the "Chinese Virology Aircraft Carrier". The state newspaper said it was "able to research the deadliest pathogens".
A researcher, Zhou Peng, told the state-run Xinhua News Agency in 2018: “We are proud to be at the forefront of research into the immunity mechanism of bats that have long transmitted viruses.
& # 39; Bats carry viruses but are not infected (by them). (They) give hope to humanity to study how to fight viruses. & # 39;
It centers around a bat-filled cave, a series of mysterious deaths, some brilliant scientists conducting futuristic experiments in a secret laboratory – and a cover-up of epic proportions that, if proven, will have enormous consequences for the Chinese Communist Party and China would the global practice of science.
What exactly is this theory about the origins of this pandemic?
It needs to be made clear that this is just a theory, but based on bits of evidence worked out by some brave scientists and some online detectives.
New diseases have emerged throughout human history. Most experts believe that Covid is a "zoonotic" disease that is transmitted naturally from animals to humans.
They believe it was most likely "amplified" by an intermediate species – similar to how the Chinese consumption of civets sparked the 2002 Sars epidemic.
At the same time, Beijing's actions from the start – covering up the outbreak, blaming a wildlife market it has since admitted wasn't to blame, barring outside investigators, burying data and silencing its own experts – have fueled suspicion.
Last week, leaked documents revealed how, on orders from President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government tightly controls all research into the origins of Covid and promotes marginal theories suggesting it came from outside of China.
And it's an unpleasant coincidence that Wuhan – a city full of bustling shops, overcrowded restaurants, and many unmasked people on the streets celebrating New Years – is home to the world's leading coronavirus research unit, as well as ground zero for a strange new one Variety.
The clues begin with an abandoned copper mine in Mojiang, a hilly region in Yunnan, southern China, where bats live in a network of underground caves, cracks and crevices.
Days after three Chinese miners who cleaned up bat droppings in caves died, Zhengli went to investigate
Two weeks ago, a BBC reporter was prevented from reaching this remote location after being chased for miles by police on bumpy roads, then blocked by a truck and confronted by men at roadblocks who said it was their job to help him to stop.
Last month, a team of US journalists was also followed by plainclothes officers who denied them entry.
A research team recently managed to take some samples from the mine, but they are believed to have been confiscated.
The reason for this secrecy dates back to late April 2012 when a 42-year-old man who was clearing bat droppings in these underground caves showed up at a nearby hospital with a bad cough, high fever and difficulty breathing.
Within a week, five colleagues had similar symptoms. Three later died, one after doctors struggled for more than 100 days to save his life – but the youngest two spent less than a week in the hospital and survived. Sound familiar?
We have since learned from a detailed master’s thesis that included medical reports and radiological examinations that these miners suffered viral pneumonia attributed to Sars-like coronaviruses derived from horseshoe bats.
A leading US health agency pointed out last year that they had "a disease remarkably similar to Covid-19".
No wonder a well-known vaccine scientist said to me, "This is as close to a smoking gun as it is."
Interestingly, these cases were also highlighted in a second paper three years later.
It was written by a student of Oxford-trained virologist Professor George Gao Fu, who is now the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and oversees its response to the pandemic.
The Chinese authorities must have known about the dead miners.
Still, they quickly tried to blame the Wuhan wildlife market as a source of Covids until they were challenged by reputable studies in this newspaper.
After the miners died, Shi Zhengli, a Wuhan-based virologist known as Batwoman, went to investigate for her expeditions to collect samples in such caves and a member of the team that traced the origins of Sars to bats.
"The mine shaft smelled like hell," she told Scientific American magazine, as her colleagues discovered new coronaviruses in samples of blood and feces from bats for a year.
The miners, she claimed, died of a fungal infection.
"The mine shaft smelled like hell," she told Scientific American magazine, as her colleagues discovered new coronaviruses in samples of blood and feces from bats for a year. The miners, she claimed, died of a fungal infection.
Another expert noted how the deceased miners were treated with antifungal drugs while the survivors were given other drugs.
"In addition to the fact that the cases were sars-like rather than fungal, this treatment history speaks against a fungus (a cause)," he said.
"It is very strange that Shi Zhengli should claim these cases are mushrooms."
Prof. Shi examined samples in her Wuhan laboratory, a few kilometers from the notorious market. Studies later found the virus in sewage, but it was not detected in animals.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology is the first laboratory in China with the world's highest bio-safety level.
It specializes in studying bat-borne viruses and is at the forefront of China's drive to assert itself in biotechnology.
Leaked diplomatic cables show that US officials who visited the lab two years ago warned of security vulnerabilities and the risks of a new Sars-like epidemic.
The lab's security chief also publicly admitted concerns about flawed security systems.
The institute has been conducting experiments with bat coronaviruses since 2015 – including research that can increase their virulence by combining snippets of different strains.
Some viruses have been injected into special "humanized" mice designed for use in laboratories with human genes, cells, or tissues in their bodies.
These controversial experiments artificially force viruses to evolve to improve our understanding of diseases and their communicability.
They help researchers develop new drugs and vaccines.
The Wuhan scientists worked with prominent Western experts and received funding from the National Institutes of Health, the main U.S. funding agency – though that relationship ended for security reasons after it was revealed by The Mail on Sunday.
Some scientists argue that this type of pathogen research is too risky as it could trigger a pandemic from a new disease.
As a result, there was a four-year moratorium on such US work under the Obama administration.
Other critics have warned that the Wuhan Institute is constructing "chimeric" coronaviruses – new hybrid microorganisms that show no signs of human manipulation.
The big question now is whether they took samples of the coronavirus that killed the Yunnan miners and created a new virus in their laboratory more than 1,000 miles away that somehow got into their own city.
Leaked diplomatic cables show that US officials who visited the lab two years ago warned of security vulnerabilities and the risks of a new Sars-like epidemic
As leading experts have suggested, creating chimeric viruses by combining properties from different samples would have been a logical step.
Many scientific breakthroughs have resulted from such speculative endeavors.
A medical professor suggested to me that the miners may have died after being exposed to very high doses of coronavirus while working in deep shafts filled with bats and their droppings.
However, the Wuhan scientists then struggled to prove causality in their laboratory because their samples were too weak to infect human cells.
& # 39; This would have prevented them from posting a key finding of a new Sars-like virus infecting people.
They may then have tried to modify the virus to better infect human cells in order to find the missing link. & # 39;
This is, it must be emphasized, unproven speculation.
And it's understandable why China wants to know as much as possible about bat viruses popping up in its country.
However, experts say there are many unanswered questions centered on Beijing's reluctance to clear the miners' cases, viruses, and samples that are kept in their laboratories.
The Wuhan Institute has even taken important databases offline.
The key to all of this is the enigmatic Batwoman Prof. Shi. First, she published a genetic sequence for Sars-Cov-2 – the strain of coronavirus that causes Covid-19 – which, despite careful analysis of other novel traits, ignored its most surprising property.
This is the "furin cleavage site," a mutation not found in similar types of coronavirus, and which allows their spike protein to bind so effectively to many human cells.
The lab's security chief also publicly admitted concerns about flawed security systems
Last January, Prof. Shi and two colleagues published an article in Nature that revealed the existence of a virus called RaTG13, which was taken from a horseshoe bat and stored on its premises, the largest repository for bat coronavirus in Asia.
This paper, filed on the same day that China allowed human transmission, caused a stir in the scientific world for the existence of the closest known relative of Sars-Cov-2 with a genetic similarity to more than 96 percent revealed.
It was pointed out that such diseases occur naturally – although closely related, it would have taken RaTG13 several decades to develop into Sars-Cov-2 in the wild and was too distant to be manipulated in a laboratory to become.
Other experts wondered why there was so little information about this new strain. One reason soon became clear: the name was changed from that of another virus called Ra4991, which was identified in a previous article – but, unusually, not cited in the Nature article.
This obscured a direct link to the dead miners, which was only confirmed when Nature, following complaints, requested the publication of an addendum.
The Wuhan team also admitted it had eight other Sars virus from the Yunnan mine that were not disclosed.
Some scientists say these new details pose a lot of new problems – including a 20-point review posted on her blog by an Indian microbiologist named Monali Rahalkar.
However, many high profile experts still dismiss the idea of a laboratory leak as a conspiracy theory.
However, David Relman, one of the world's foremost experts in the field, suggests that scientists could easily combine a "furin cleavage site" from one viral ancestor with the Sars-Cov-2 backbone of another.
"Alternatively, the full Sars-Cov-2 sequence could have been obtained from a bat sample and a viable virus extracted from a synthetic genome to study before that virus accidentally escaped," wrote Relman, professor of microbiology and immunology at the Stanford University Medical School, in a recent article.
The former US government biosecurity advisor told me he raised the issues out of frustration with scientists who seemed uncomfortable with the idea.
"This confusing story doesn't fit together – the possibility of a laboratory accident cannot be ruled out," he said.
There were also questions about the apparent disappearance of a young researcher who worked in the laboratory.
It has been suggested that she may have been involved in this pandemic, although this has been denied by Chinese authorities.
Even if the miners' connection were severed, it would not rule out the possibility of an accident causing this pandemic.
Alina Chan, a molecular biologist at the Broad Institute of MIT and at Harvard, said Wuhan scientists had shown in publications that they sampled hundreds of bats and people who live near bat caves in search of Sars-related viruses.
"Even if the Sars-Cov-2 precursor wasn't from those miners or the Mojiang mine, did they find other viruses that are very closely related that we don't know about yet?" She asked.
It sounds like the plot from a science fiction film: a manipulated virus emerging from a high-tech laboratory and causing global chaos.
However, there are numerous precedents, including two researchers infected with Sars in a Beijing virology lab in 2004.
Studies also show that accidents involving deadly pathogens are common in laboratories where people work with microscopic viruses.
Prof. Shi admitted that she never expected an outbreak in a city so far from the home of the bats she was studying.
She said her first thought on hearing about coronavirus might be the culprit of asking herself, "Could you have come from our lab?"
Then she desperately rushed back to Wuhan to check her records for possible abuse of materials – proving that she believed such a leak was possible.
There is also another laboratory in Wuhan with a lower level of biosecurity, 500 meters from the animal market.
A study published on a research sharing website by two Chinese scientists in February and then accessed two days later mysteriously claimed that 605 bats were kept here to describe how some attacked, bled and urinated a researcher .
"It is plausible that the virus leaked," concluded the paper.
Perhaps this theory will dissolve as we find out new facts.
Or scientists will come up with an alternative explanation for how Covid-19 passed from bats to humans.
Likewise, it is possible that we will never find out the truth about the origins of this virus.
But at this point the only certainty is that all of us science – and indeed investigative reporting – will do a disservice if that idea is abandoned without being properly disproved and without evidence.
We owe this to a world that has been so disrupted by this pandemic.
(tagsToTranslate) Dailymail (t) Nachrichten (t) Coronavirus (t) World Health Organization (t) China