Chinese researchers claim COVID-19 virus originated in India or Bangladesh
Photo Credit: PTI

As world battles the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Chinese scientists have now made a bizarre claim: The virus originated in India in the summer of 2019!

According to a report by Deccan Herald, a team of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences claimed that the COVID-19 virus might have originated in India — jumping from animals to humans via contaminated water — before travelling unnoticed to Wuhan, where it was first detected and soon became the epicentre of the virus.

But, this is not the first time that China has held other countries responsible for the outbreak. Previously, Chinese authorities, without evidence, called out Italy and US for being the point-of-origin of the virus.

A paper by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which has not been peer-reviewed yet, used a method called phylogenetic analysis, a technique where scientists study the mutations of the virus, to assess the origin of the coronavirus. According to this phylogenetic analysis, the method rules out Wuhan as a site of origin of the coronavirus, but shifts focus to Bangladesh, India, US, Greece, Australia, Italy, Czech Republic, Russia, and Serbia as potential countries.

As per the paper, since India and Bangladesh reported the least number of mutations and are neighbouring countries of China, scientists have estimated that the Indian subcontinent may be the origin of the first COVID-19 transmission.

Various outlets of the state-run Chinese media have been carrying reports in recent days stating that a number of imported food products from different countries, including a consignment of fish from India, were found to have traces of the COVID-19 alleging that the virus may have entered China through foreign routes.

Asked whether that is China's official view too, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told media that "even though China was the first to report coronavirus but doesn't necessarily mean China is where the virus originated".

"So we believe the origin process is a complex scientific issue which requires joint efforts on COVID-19 cooperation from the scientific community worldwide. Only by doing so we can guard against future risks because origin tracing is an evolving and sustained process that involves many countries and regions," he said.

His response came as the World Health Organisation (WHO) team to investigate the origin of the virus is due to arrive in China, even though Beijing is yet to give a timeline.

In May, the World Health Assembly (WHA), the governing body of the 194-member states of the WHO, approved a resolution to set up an independent inquiry to conduct an "impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of the international response as well as that of WHO.

It also asked the WHO to investigate the "source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population".

China, which has backed the inquiry with a rider that it should commence after the coronavirus was brought under control, said it is getting ready to receive the WHO experts' team.

WHO emergency expert Dr Mike Ryan told the media early this week that his organisation has had assurances from China that an international field trip to investigate the origins of the new coronavirus will be arranged as soon as possible.

"We fully expect that we will have a team on the ground," Ryan was quoted as saying by the state-run CGTN on November 25.

Ryan said the Wuhan market, where the virus is reported to have originated, is "likely to have been a point of amplification" of virus transmission, but whether that was by human, animal or environmental spread is not yet known, the report quoted him saying. He said that there had been human cases that preceded that event, according to the CGTN report.

(Inputs from PTI)

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