As WHO finally takes COVID-19 questions to China

[By Sopuruchi Onwuka]

After years and months of altercations between China, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States of America over the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), investigations have begun on the origin of the virus which has decimated the global population and plunged economies into recession.

The WHO which was caught in the web of allegations of conspiracies to cover up possible culpability of state agents in the global pandemic is now leading the role to find out how the virus known to exist in bats found its way to humans.

The United States’ government under erstwhile President Donald Trump had stridently accused the Chinese government of running researches which bred the viral mutants that allegedly escaped from a government laboratory and eventually spread among dense population of the Wuhan City in Hubei Province of China.

The allegations mostly from European countries including Britain and Germany anchored on China’s desperate efforts to conceal outbreak of the disease in December 2019 and the failure of the communist party-led government to alert the WHO of the threat posed by the virus to global health.

It is estimated that the country which flaunts stockpiles of foreign reserves could be liable to whopping $16 trillion in claims and damages if it accepts responsibility for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Faced with grim implications of allegations pushed by the United States and its close allies, China has consistently and vigorously pushed counter narratives to absolve itself of culpability in the spread of the disease, and probable responsibility for global fatalities and economic losses associated with the pandemic. While the western nations advance intelligence reports linking COVID-19 to surreal laboratory experiments at the Wuhan laboratory, the Chinese foreign ministry holds strong on its weak and unsubstantiated claims that the virus which spread from the country was actually imported.

The WHO was caught in the web of allegations when the Director General, Mr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, countered the allegations that COVID-19 emerged from Chinese laboratory. He had directly absolved China from allegations from the United States and Europe that the virus had escaped from a laboratory operated by the Chinese Center for Disease Control near Wuhan, where the first cases of the virus broke out and spread widely within weeks.

He directly countered claims by President Donald Trump of the United States that the bat coronavirus leaked from the Wuhan laboratory. His position on the origin of COVID-19 leaves the organization with the burden of proof which involved resolution of the riddle over the migration of the virus from bat to man.

Worse still, Mr Ghebreyesus’ altercations with former President Trump had led to the withdrawal of the United States from the global health agency and inflicted funding dent on organization’s capacity in leading the combat against COVID.

However, with the resilience of the new coronavirus against global social and scientific measures in the whole of 2020; the rising concern that the disease and its threat to global civilization might linger longer than projected; and the growing fear that covid associated economic regression would grow more poverty in the world; the WHO is now leading global research concert that involves understanding of how the virus evolved.

Expectedly, tracing the origin of the virus comes with the risk of regenerating the withering argument over the culpability of China in the spread of the disease; explaining the reluctance of the Chinese government to accept that investigation of the disease origin would begin in the country.  

After months of intense pressure and expressions of impatience on reluctant Chinese government controlled by the communist party leaders, WHO finally dispatched a delegation of international scientists to begin work to track how SARS COV-2 migrated from wild bats into the crowded residents of Chinese city of Wuhan.

For the WHO, the investigation would solve three main issues. First is to regain and restore the reputation of the global health agency as impartial and politically detached scientific organization after its defence for China led to the withdrawal of membership and funding by the United States. Possible visits to the initial cluster of cases at the Huanan Seafood Market, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology suggest that WHO would actually determine if the virus actually originated from a laboratory or contracted from animals in the live game market.

Second, research into the origin of SARS COV-2 would enrich global data in management of similar cases and possibly prevent future pandemics. And clear understating of the nature of the virus would also aid and support hundreds of billion dollar vaccine development programmes across the world.

Third, the WHO research team also searches for migration paths of the pathogen. Head of Mission, Peter Ben Embarek, told media sources that raised the possibility of zoonotic spillover which infers that the virus might have migrated from bats to other animals and then to humans. Other scientists involved in the study of microorganisms agree on the animal to animal transmission theory.

So, identifying the pathogenic agents of the virus, according to scientists, is critical in preventing or controlling similar situations in the future. Tracing the pathogenic paths makes study of the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan a point of interest in the research.

On the whole, if the three objectives are realized in full, the global team of scientists are expected to generate enough data that would establish scientific procedures for rapid development of medicinal remedies for people afflicted with COVID-19 and preventive vaccines to protect healthy people from the virus.

It is also expected that WHO would generate adequate information from the research into the prevailing pandemic with which it should advise governments on local laws and regulations about human interaction with animals, especially the wild species.

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