Chinese study claiming virus might originate from Indian subcontinent withdrawn

By Liu Caiyu Source: Global Times Published: 2020/12/1 20:37:42

Two men make their way in the rain in Chennai, India on Wednesday before the arrival of Cyclone Nivar. Nivar will bring extremely heavy rainfall and winds between 120 and 130 kilometers per hour, the meteorological center in Chennai said. Photo: VCG

Amid hypotheses and studies trying to answer the complex scientific question about where and how the novel coronavirus emerged, the Global Times found a study that claimed the Indian subcontinent might be the place where the earliest human-to-human novel coronavirus transmission occurred was withdrawn from the preprint platform of the medical journal The Lancet.

Analysts said  the incident shows how complicated and tricky it is to answer the scientific question of COVID-19 origin-tracing and it is bound to be completed through joint efforts of the international community, as the virus may have existed in multiple places before it was identified and reported. 

The study was first posted on, the preprint platform of the medical journal The Lancet, on November 17, but the article was gone by Tuesday. A staff from the Institute of Neuroscience under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) also confirmed with the Global Times that the study was withdrawn from the platform.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Institute of Neuroscience under the CAS, the Shanghai-based Fudan University and the University of Texas in Houston.

The pre-print study, titled the "Early Cryptic Transmission and Evolution of SARS-CoV-2 in Human Hosts," suggested that the Indian subcontinent might be the place where the earliest human-to-human novel coronavirus transmission occurred, three or four months prior to the outbreak in Wuhan. 

Withdrawing a study from the SSRN.Com is no surprise. If the researchers or researching institute found their studies may have lacked data, or are not solid or deliberate enough to draw a conclusion, they would consider withdrawing their study, a Beijing-based public health expert told the Global Times on condition of anonymity on Tuesday. 

He said "the withdrawal of this study on the virus origin shows that tracking the virus origin around the world is a complicated scientific question, which is not an easy task, and is far from reaching a conclusion without international collaboration."

Especially when the topic has been politicized and some nations always try to pin the blame for the subsequent epidemic in the world on China, scientists around the world are acknowledging it is a tough task to complete. International collaboration is urged to answer the question. This requires large amounts of data, probably involving various countries, the Beijing-based expert said. 

One thing that researchers in the world are working on is to track the virus, since many puzzles remain unsolved.  No government is behind these studies and we cannot simply cap the research to shirk responsibility simply because it was done by Chinese scientists, experts noted. They said that the atmosphere of politicizing scientific research will do no good for the world to cope with the urgent dilemma everyone faces.

As the paper was still a pre-print version that has yet to go through the peer review process, the withdrawal could mean that the results of the study may need further verification, experts had said.

"More evidence suggests the early existence of the virus in the world before human beings became aware of it, and it points to multiple sources," he added.

A study by the National Cancer Institute of Milan found the novel coronavirus in blood samples collected in October 2019, and research led by the University of Barcelona showed the presence of the virus in samples of sewage in Barcelona in March 2019.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal also quoted a government study that said COVID-19 was likely in the US in mid-December, about a month before the country reported its first case, and weeks before China reported its first case. 


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