The US government’s call for an international investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic has a clear political motive: blaming it for failing to respond effectively to the pandemic within its borders.
This is unfortunate, because it is in everyone’s interest to work together, not to question the way China handles the crisis but to discover factors that cause new infections so that we can avoid disasters in the future.
We need to understand how SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, emerged, and look at how and when we were able to impede its progress.
This means examining the origins of the virus and the biological and environmental factors that have allowed it to become so dangerous. To achieve this, a collaborative international scholarly investigation free from mutual accusations and narrow political agendas is needed.
What we know so far
Comprehensive scientific data showed that SARS-CoV-2 was It is not intentionally engineered And there was no plot to cause an epidemic. It did not originate in or evade the lab, in Wuhan, or anywhere else. The The first human cases COVID-19 did not come from the wet Wuhan market but from elsewhere in China, possibly outside of Hubei Province entirely.
In fact, the disease did not “originate” in the market at all, though An important spread has occurred A link to the Wuhan market has caught the attention of Chinese public health authorities.
It is almost certain that SARS-CoV-2 is descended from an animal virus It underwent a series of mutations Which made it dangerous to humans. The path to humans may have included intermediate animal hosts, though animals Still not certain.
So, this is the most likely sequence of events: Coronavirus in bats has found its way to one or more other animal hosts, and may include pangolin Or some kind of cat somewhere in southern China. At that time, the virus could not infect humans or cause noticeable disease, otherwise the infected animals would have had little contact with humans. During an unknown period of time (perhaps decades), the virus mutated in a way that made it extremely dangerous, and in the end, by chance, a human became infected, possibly in the second week of November 2019.
The new virus soon spread to other people and found its way to Hubei Province. On December 10, an infected person visited the crowded market in Wuhan and was responsible for the injury of 21 other people. Over the next two weeks, enough people fell ill to alert doctors and public health officials, resulting in the disease. Announcement on December 31st Warning the world about a dangerous new disease. The market was closed the next day and determined efforts were made to identify and isolate the contacts.
Three weeks later, it was clear that these measures could not contain the epidemic, and on January 23, the Chinese authorities took the courageous and unprecedented step of locking down the entire city. This has controlled the spread of the virus in China, but it is too late to stop the spread internationally, because by that time the virus was already present in Taiwan, South Korea, Europe and the United States.
What we don’t know yet
What we need to find out now is what happened in the months or years leading up to November 2019 and whether anything can be done to prevent the disaster, at a later time.
It is crucial to understand the evolution of this virus because, as with all human diseases that emerge from animals, it will have occurred as a result of both random biological events and responses to environmental stressors. The virus must mutate, and the original wild animal must be exposed to other species, and the virus had to spread within those species and be subject to more. Mutations. The animal had to come into close contact with a human who, at the right moment, must become infected with the new infection.
Despite the low probability of each individual step, in recent decades A. Long list of viruses He negotiated this entire pathway, including HIV, SARS, MERS, Ebola, NEPA, LASA, Zika, Hendra, various types of influenza, and now SARS-CoV-2. This indicates new factors that increase the chances of exposure, adaptation, infection, and spread.
These factors are likely to include population growth, agricultural expansion, loss of natural habitats for wild animals, loss of traditional food sources, and changing relationships between and among animal species. Animals and humans. Deforestation and climate change Exacerbate this process, As with increased population movement, through domestic and international travel. The illegal international trade in wildlife, and the inappropriate use of drugs and InsecticidesAnd governments ’reluctance to work together only makes it worse.
Knowing how these factors affect genetics and virus evolution will help us find ways to thwart them. We can develop a coordinated early warning system to identify and track Potentially dangerous pathogens, And observe the interactions between species that can transmit it. We can preserve native habitats and reduce the pressure on wild animals to enter human habitats in search of food. We can strategically kill animals that serve as reservoirs for dangerous viruses.
We can precisely target infection control measures such as health monitoring and quarantine. We can work together to develop new diagnostic tests, drugs and vaccines. We can develop globally coordinated rapid response plans when new outbreaks emerge.
This process will only succeed if it is conducted with openness, confidence, and recognition that it is in the interest of the entire world. It will only succeed if we accept that viruses are not national problems or sovereign responsibilities, but global challenges.
COVID-19 should be a wake-up call to banish petty accusations, ideological rivalries and short-sighted political ambitions. Countries around the world should encourage China and the United States to raise their sights on the biggest challenge and help carry out the investigation we need to avoid disaster in the future.
It is urgent, because the next pandemic may already be incubated somewhere in the world at this very moment.