COVID-19 likely in US before Wuhan; world should not turn a blind eye to similar cases: experts

By Liu Caiyu and Fan Lingzhi Source: Global Times Published: 2020/12/2 20:14:38

China may have been ‘whistleblower for the world’ on pandemic: experts

People wearing face masks walk on a street in Washington, D.C., the United States, Aug. 14, 2020. A new ensemble forecast published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has projected up to 200,000 total COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. by Sept. 5.Photo:Xinhua

China does not seek to alter the virus origin story as some Western media claimed; it is a fact that China may have been the whistleblower of the pandemic, as mounting academic and official evidence have shown the early existence of the novel coronavirus in multiple places around the world, experts noted, after acknowledging the possible early existence of the virus in Italy, Spain and the US. But China is calling for an open mind toward the complicated scientific question.

Research by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested Americans may have first been infected in mid-December as antibodies were found in blood samples in US states, according to the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

The findings suggest that SARS-CoV-2 (the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19) infections may have been present in the US in mid-December 2019, weeks earlier than Wuhan reported its first case and about a month earlier than the reported first case in the US. 

The first COVID-19 infection in the US was reported on January 19, 2020 and China reported its first COVID-19 patient in Wuhan in December 2019.

A recent US CDC report found COVID-19 antibodies in blood samples as early as Dec 13, 2019. With more & more evidence surfacing about the coronavirus' origins in places outside China before Wuhan detected it, the world is remapping the history of the COVID-19 pandemic. Infographic:GT

The findings again refresh people's knowledge of the early existence of the novel coronavirus before Wuhan identified its first case. A study by Italy's 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.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry and observers on Wednesday called for a more open mind to answer the puzzle, which should be done by scientists around the world.

Hua Chunying, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said the epidemic broke out in multiple places and the study from the US CDC also verified it, but she stressed that tracing the source of coronavirus is a scientific work, which must be done by global scientists. "We hope other countries could work with the WHO to prepare for future public health crises," she said.

"Facts will speak for themselves. We cannot turn a blind eye to the possibility of the early existence of the virus in many countries," Liang Manchun, an associate research fellow at the Institute for Public Safety Research of Tsinghua University, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

Asked whether the discovery of antibodies in the blood is reliable evidence for the virus origin, a virologist told the Global Times on condition of anonymity that many countries, such as Brazil, Italy and Spain, reported early blood samples being found positive for nucleic acids, but the results may be "false positive." Same with antibodies, the virologist said, noting "antibodies do not directly represent the existence of the virus. Positive antibodies may be caused by some non-specific or similar viral infection."

He believes the gene sequencing of the viral strain is the best evidence to clarify the early existence of the epidemic in various countries. 

The US study offers one more direction for seeking the virus origin but we cannot draw a conclusion easily as the complicated scientific questions are beyond one or two scientists' capability to complete, as they require large amounts of data, probably involving various countries, a Beijing-based public health expert reached by the Global Time said.

However, the Global Times found that before any conclusion can be made on where the virus originated, some Western media have continuously taken Wuhan as the birthplace of the virus and even slandered China of trying to shirk responsibility. British media the Guardian claimed China is running a "propaganda campaign" that leans toward possible alternative origins.

Chinese observers noted that when scientists in the world are still working to track the virus and solve the urgent dilemma everyone faces, the international community shall maintain an open attitude toward it. Simply taking China as the one to be blamed for the pandemic will bring no good to solving the problem, and the possibility of China being a whistleblower of the pandemic cannot be ruled out, they noted.

The Global Times found that after the CDC study, American netizens swarmed online, claiming they had experienced a horrible time in December last year, showing similar symptoms with the COVID-19. 

"Yup. Had the weirdest 'flu' last December. Nothing but a hard cough and some minor congestion,' a Twitter user wrote. Another said "When I took my son to a packed ER in January with severe flu-like symptoms, he tested negative for the flu but the doctor said all of the other patients in the waiting room hacking up a lung tested negative, too. Maybe Covid was the mystery illness?"

In March, when asked if some people in the US actually died of coronavirus rather than influenza last year, US CDC director Robert Redfield admitted that some cases were wrongly diagnosed. 

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