The World Health Organization’s Wuhan, China, investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 has found potentially 13 different strains of the virus in December 2019, suggesting it had gone undetected for some time, CNN reported.
“The virus was circulating widely in Wuhan in December, which is a new finding,” lead WHO investigator Peter Ben Embarek told CNN in an exclusive interview.
Embarek added Chinese scientists presented 174 severe cases of the virus in December 2019, suggesting more than 1,000 might have been infected in Wuhan by that time.
“We haven’t done any modeling of that since,” he told CNN. “But we know . . . in big ballpark figures . . . out of the infected population, about 15% end up severe cases, and the vast majority are mild cases.”
The 13 unique strains from December 2019 studied by the 17 WHO scientists and 17 Chinese scientists during the recent visit by investigators suggest a new story to be told about the origins of the global coronavirus pandemic.
“As there was already genetic diversity in SARS-CoV-2 sequences sampled from Wuhan in December 2019, it is likely that the virus was circulating for a while longer than that month alone,” University of Sydney Prof. Edward Holmes, an Australian virologist, told CNN.
“These data fit with other analyses that the virus emerged in the human population earlier than December 2019 and that there was a period of cryptic transmission before it was first detected in the Huanan (Wuhan) market.”
The Trump administration has long pointed to U.S. intelligence believing the virus originated in a Wuhan laboratory and not a nearby wet market as China had initially claimed.
“Some of them are from the markets,” Embarek told CNN of the December 2019 strains. “Some of them are not linked to the markets.
“This is something we found as part of our mission,” he continued, “part of the interaction we had all together.”
The 40-year-old man China has described as patient zero was the subject during the WHO investigation.
“He has no link to the markets,” Embarek told CNN. “We also spoke to him. He has a very – in a way – dull and normal life, no hiking in the mountains type of things. He was an office worker in a private company.”
Embarek hopes to return to Wuhan to continue investigating the origins of the virus, including examining earlier blood samples that date back a couple of years.
“There is about 200,000 samples available there that are now secured and could be used for a new set of studies,” Embarek told CNN. “It would be would be fantastic if we could [work] with that.”
A statement from the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., responded to criticism of not providing access to earlier data, per CNN:
“What the U.S. has done in recent years has severely undermined multilateral institutions, including the WHO, and gravely damaged international cooperation on COVID-19 . . . But the U.S., acting as if none of this had ever happened, is pointing fingers at other countries who have been faithfully supporting the WHO and at the WHO itself.”
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