A year after the outbreak that initiated the COVID-19 pandemic, doubt has been cast from several directions on the prevailing consensus that the virus originated in a wet market in central China, with several theories suggesting it arrived in Wuhan from another source.
Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) and diplomats from several nations told Reuters on Wednesday that an international investigative team would be dispatched to Wuhan, China, early next year to investigate the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that has caused the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their mission will be six weeks long, including two weeks of quarantine immediately after their arrival.
The disease was first noted in December 2019 as a new type of pneumonia, but was not sequenced and identified as a unique illness until January 2020, by which time it had infected tens of thousands of people, mostly in Hubei Province. Despite Chinese lockdown measures, some people infected with the virus managed to travel internationally, beginning the spread of the disease that became a full-fledged pandemic just two months later.
Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO’s top expert in animal diseases, has dismissed any notion it was man-made or was released from a lab, a conspiracy theory promulgated by such people as US President Donald Trump earlier this year.
However, reporters at Chinese state outlet Global Times have recently suggested the virus could have come to China from elsewhere, arriving in frozen food shipments, since most of the products sold at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market are not live, but frozen.
“Wu also said that the fact that seafood has caused flare-ups in Beijing, Dalian and Qingdao also raised the question whether the early outbreak in Wuhan was also triggered by imported seafood. ‘This gives us a lead, a new way of thinking,’ said the top epidemiologist.”
If the WHO mission to Wuhan fails to turn up answers, scientists may be headed to Italy next. Last month, Milan’s National Cancer Institute published a report which found that dozens of people enrolled in a lung cancer screening trial had developed SARS-CoV-2 antibodies well before the first known COVID-19 case arrived in Italy on February 21, 2020. Some of those antibodies were found in blood samples taken in October 2019, meaning they must have been infected in September 2019.