Experts debunk Chinese scientists’ Covid virus India origin claim

New Delhi: Health experts in India have refuted a claim made by Chinese scientists in a preprint paper that suggests that the Indian subcontinent might be the place where the earliest human-to-human SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurred.

The claim contradicts reports that have said that the virus originated in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province late last year.

“This is a speculative theory without scientific basis,” Jyoti Mutta, Senior Consultant, Microbiology, Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute in New Delhi, told IANS.

“Any outbreak investigations need to start from where the first case emerged,” she said.

However, the new paper by scientists in China argues that the Covid-19 outbreak might have occurred in India, “which was three or four months prior to the Wuhan outbreak”.

“Furthermore, based on the SARS-CoV-2’s mutation rate, we estimate that the earliest SARS-CoV-2 transmission in human hosts could be traced back to July or August of 2019,” the scientists wrote in the paper.

The new theory sprouts at a time when when the World Health Organization announced the start of the long-awaited investigation into the source of the virus responsible for Covid-19.

According to Oommen John, a Senior Research Fellow at The George Institute for Global Health, the scientific evidence so far suggests that the virus indeed originated in Wuhan in China.

“We need to look at two things to understand the origin of the virus. One is to look at how the chronology of events have been documented and second is to look at the genomic profile. Genetic mapping have been done for all the strains and that is available in a common repository. So any claim should be based on evidence,” he said.

“Had the virus originated in any part of India, would the clinicians or health system in the country not recognised it? When we have serious health condition like this with huge public health implication, hospital or clinicians are not stupid enough to miss that,” said the expert who had worked with the WHO, Geneva and SEARO on the Measles Aerosol Vaccine Development.

According to a report in The Guardian on Sunday, there has been an effort on the part of China now to step up a campaign to question the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Talking about the current research that attempts to link the origin of the virus to India, Praveen Gupta, Director, Neurology, Fortis Hospital Gurugram, said that “this is another in the series of flawed attempts by Chinese to deflect blame from itself.”


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