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Do the first cases of COVID-19 point to a natural origin?

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There are still great doubts about the origins of the SARS2 virus, the COVID-19 pandemic virus. We suspect that these are bats with another animal as an intermediary: this is the hypothesis of natural origin, which is the first guess at the root of any disease caused by a virus in the coronavirus family.

This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, where the first epidemic occurred, has four markets for live wild animals. The most important of these, the Huanan Market, which was closed and disinfected on the first day of 2020, appears to concentrate the first apparent cases of people infected with SARS2, so it could have been the epicenter of the pandemic. Thus suggests a new analysis by the researcher in ecology and evolutionary biology of the University of Arizona Michael Worobey, published by the journal science.

Worobey points out that the market was selling live raccoon dogs, a species of Asian canid that may be infected with coronaviruses. Its analysis covers December 2019 and four health establishments.

  • Wuhan Central Hospital. On the 18th, Ai Fen, director of the emergency department, discovered the first case of a 65-year-old man suffering from an unknown pneumonia revealed by a scan of the lungs. This gentleman was a delivery man for the Huanan market. On the 24th, a sample taken from him was sent to a genetic material sequencing company, which identified a new coronavirus two days later. Until the 28th, the hospital had identified seven cases, four of which were linked to the market.
  • Jinyintan Hospital, Wuhan’s best infectious disease center. He received 41 of the first patients, transferred from other hospitals between December 29 and January 2. Twenty-seven of them were connected to the market.
  • Hubei Provincial Hospital. First to report the mysterious new pneumonia to the district, city and provincial authorities. On the 26th, he admitted an elderly couple with patterns of covid in their lungs, which were also found in their son. They are considered the first group by the WHO. They had no connection with Huanan. However, over the next three days, the Provincial received four market workers with symptoms.
  • Zhongnan Hospital, 15 km from Huanan Market. On day 31, he found two patients logged into the site. Until January 3, there were three other cases, a family without this link.

About half of the first cases in these hospitals, Worobey concludes, have something to do with wild animals sold to Huanan, directly or indirectly. Some newspapers interpreted the scientist’s analysis as if he had found “patient zero”. The article itself contradicts this interpretation: it leaves open the question of whether the real first cases really come from the market, due to the low rate of hospitalization (7%). There is ample room, among the 93% of other projected cases, for any pattern involving the market to dissolve.

Worobey favors the natural origin linked to the market because he does not see a pattern of dependency in the sample of early patients, such as the dependence that would come from sampling patients due to location – Jinyintan patients, for example. example, have been grouped together by symptoms. Moreover, in the strains of the virus identified in the first patients, strains A and B, the scientist speculates that both could have been events independent of the passage of the virus from animals to humans. Apart from the confirmed presence of raccoon dogs in Huanan, Worobey considers these facts to be “strong evidence” that this is the origin of the pandemic.

Points in favor of laboratory origin ignored by science

As the author admits, no animal in Huanan or other wildlife markets has been tested for the presence of SARS2 or its relatives. All Worobey can indicate is the susceptibility of the raccoon dogs, not specimens with a confirmed infection that could have been the source of the virus. Worobey does not offer answers to many of the points raised by supporters of the plausibility of the rival hypothesis, the origin of accidental lab leak, which breaks down between leakage of virus taken from nature without modification and leakage of modified virus in the laboratory in “gain-of-function” experiments, which is the insertion of a greater capacity to infect human cells.

Among the advocates of laboratory origins is science journalist Nicholas Wade, in an article published in Gazeta do Povo in May, the source of which are researchers from the independent DRASTIC network, such as Yuri Deigin and Rossana Segreto, whose work has been covered. a year ago in this journal (when other publications unfairly dealt with the “conspiracy theory” hypothesis), as well as Alina Chan and Matt Ridley, with their new book viral, and the FBI. Here are some of the unanswered points:

  • Animals in the markets have not been tested, but Chinese authorities have tested 80,000 animals and found nothing.
  • December 2019 is too late to talk about the start of a pandemic. The most plausible timeline is for November, as US intelligence agencies have concluded. Worobey does not mention the suspicious actions of the Chinese government, such as deleting a large database, missing Ai Fen herself for months, who later reappeared with a vision problem, or the name of Li Wenliang, who was punished for warning. regarding the virus, he died of covid and was considered a hero by many Chinese. It is not possible to assume that the Chinese dictatorship would be completely transparent about the first cases.
  • SARS2 has a suspicious structure absent from its closest relatives, the furin cleavage site, which enhances its ability to infect humans. Several experiments are known in which this structure is inserted into viruses.
  • Wuhan is the world’s largest laboratory center for the study of coronaviruses. As Intercept revealed, Peter Daszak and his NGO EcoHealth Alliance asked the US government for money in 2018 to insert the furin cleavage site in bat coronaviruses. EcoHealth’s main partner in this endeavor was the Wuhan Institute of Virology (IVW).

Interestingly, Worobey doesn’t even mention IVW in the text, where job gain studies have been done partly funded by US funds. But it shows the IVW on your map. Map expert Daniel A. Walker, retired geologist, does not agree with Worobey’s interpretation of the “early cases” map. For Walker, the map does not confirm that the cases are concentrated around the Huanan market. He went to look for the original data and could not find exact coordinates for each case recorded on the map: “These are residential addresses, but people move in a big city, especially to work. The figure includes the locations of hospitals. It could be argued that addresses are clustered around hospitals. As we know, hospitals are notorious sources of COVID epidemics. “

As for the review science, investigative journalist Paul Thacker views with suspicion the activities of science journalists who write for this publication, for the magazine nature and for the New York Times, which seem biased in favor of the natural origin and against the laboratory origin.

As an example, Thacker discusses the coverage these publications gave last month to the discovery of Laotian viruses, such as the Banal-52 virus, which left out the role of IVW in building these up. collections and storage of samples, and does not mention that this virus does not have the furin cleavage site. Banal-52 is the virus with the closest genetic resemblance to SARS2, above the only virus RaTG13, taken from bat droppings and stored in the IVW (which claims the sample has been depleted). However, the two are similar between 96% and 97%. In other words, the bat viruses found in Laos, cited as further evidence of natural origin, take us back to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

A new study by Steven E. Massey of the DRASTIC Network and the University of Puerto Rico has deepened the study of RaTG13. Massey points out that the genetic characteristics of the virus make it unlikely that IVW will tell the truth about the virus from feces, and that they point out that this virus was in fact preserved in living tissue of bats or cell lines.

The information leader of science says the journal will cover new information to support the lab’s original hypothesis when it comes up. Yet Thacker accuses the magazine of ignoring this information when he devotes “seven hours to Peter Daszak (seriously, seven hours!) Chief of the review”. “Daszak,” Thacker adds, “blocked most people on Twitter who dared to ask him tough questions. »The author of this article for the People’s Gazette is one of those blocked.



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