“Depoliticize the situation”, “Do not distribute blame”, “Collective responsibility in a spirit of cooperation“… The request of the World Health Organization (WHO) may well put the forms, it does not pass. Thursday August 12, WHO launched an appeal to all countries, “Including China”, to make public the raw scientific data from the first samples detected from Sras-Cov2, dating from the end of 2019, and to authorize new tests on these sequences of the coronavirus. Beijing’s response was not long in coming: it’s no.
→ THE FACTS. Covid-19: China opposes a new WHO investigation on its soil
Officially, it is a question of respect for medical confidentiality. “Without the consent of the first patients, no foreign expert has the right to photograph or copy the original data ”, explained Liang Wannian, head of the delegation of Chinese scientists. His team had already participated in the February 2021 report on the origin of the virus, conducted jointly with the WHO and marred by criticism.
Laboratory leak and natural origin
The Chinese government reiterated its support for this report. “Future research should, and can only be pursued on the basis of this report, it is not about starting all over again”, reacted a member of the executive.However, the results of this survey are rather inconclusive. The document estimated probable passage of the virus from bats to humans by an intermediate animal, but also without an intermediary. Only the hypothesis of a laboratory leak had been judged “Highly improbable” at the time.
→ READ. WHO mission in China: origins of Covid-19 remain a mystery
The WHO zoonoses specialist, the Danish Peter Embarek, explained that “Everything continues to point to a natural origin in bats”. A hypothesis which is not called into question but which could have gone through the laboratory box all the same.
In a documentary broadcast on August 12 on Danish television, Peter Embarek returns to the joint investigation. He thinks “Probable” that the coronavirus has passed to humans through “an infected employee (of a laboratory) in the field by taking samples “. For example, a scientist infected with a bat while taking samples from a cave. Or in a laboratory, by handling the animal. Or even the contamination of an outside person with waste from the laboratory, such as an animal carcass.
Let us be clear: the hypothesis of a laboratory leak and that of an animal-to-human “jump” in the wild, at a breeder or at a live animal market, are both valid. There is no way to lean in favor of one or the other. It is also impossible to know if there was an animal intermediate between the bat and the man. No scientist is currently considering the hypothesis of a virus made in the laboratory, simply a virus of natural origin that may have “leaked”.
An opacity of Chinese laboratories
In mid-July, the Director-General of WHO was already calling for “Controls of laboratories and research establishments in the region where the first cases were identified”. Understand: Southeast Asia and especially China. The American administration, which initially rejected the theory of a laboratory leak, now evokes it and has launched a “task force” to investigate the origin of the coronavirus.
As a reminder, a coronavirus very close to the one that caused the pandemic had been identified by Chinese teams in 2013 in Yunnan province. But this coronavirus, called RaTG13, does not correspond to SARS-Cov2 at the level of the “hook” to enter human cells – which it cannot, moreover, infect. Conversely, another coronavirus, Rs3367, different from SARS-Cov2 in its genetic sequence, is capable of infecting human cells. The latter was also collected in 2013 by Chinese teams in Yunnan.
→ ANALYSIS. WHO report: why don’t we know more about the origins of the virus?
But in September 2019, the Wuhan Institute of Virology database was taken offline, inaccessible to international researchers. In June 2021, it was sequences of SARS-Cov2, stored at the start of the pandemic by Chinese researchers on American servers, which had disappeared, reports the scientific journal Nature.