Apolitical scientific tracing of virus urged after earlier cases found in France
Published: May 05, 2020 07:03 PM

Photo: Xinhua

Chinese experts urged international communities and regions to carry out apolitical scientific research to trace the origin of the virus, rather than passing the buck to China for political purposes as some countries including France and the US have reportedly discovered COVID-19 cases that occurred earlier than the first cases they previously reported and showed no direct relation with China.

Tracing the origins through scientific investigation would help in the development of a vaccine, according to Cui Hongjian, director of EU studies at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing. 

It would also dispel rumors and avoid politicizing the issue, which will lead the international community to cooperate in the fight against the pandemic, Cui told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"The birthplace of the virus bears no original sin," Cui said.

The remarks came after a French hospital, which has retested old samples from pneumonia patients, discovered that it treated a patient with COVID-19 on December 27, nearly a month before the French government confirmed its first cases, Reuters reported on Monday.

Yves Cohen, head doctor of two hospitals in Paris, told French media outlet BFM TV on Sunday that it was too early to know if the patient was France's "patient zero." 

Cohen noted the patient had not made any trips and his only contact was with his wife who was not infected.

Cohen urged the local health authority to investigate.

US media outlet CNN reported on April 22 that two Californians with no "significant travel history" died of the novel coronavirus in early and mid-February - three weeks before the first previously known US death from the virus.

Researchers in Lombardy, Italy, have noted a higher than usual number of cases of severe pneumonia and flu in late 2019, an indication that the novel coronavirus might have spread there earlier than previously thought.

France's Pasteur Institute released a genetic study on April 26 showing the coronavirus that spread in the country in February had no direct link with cases imported from China. 

Such reports support the theory that the virus had multiple birthplaces around the world, Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Yang said that with the several cases now standing as the countries' first documented novel coronavirus cases, it would not be surprising if some cases in late 2019 diagnosed as influenza were connected with the virus.

Yang noted that Wuhan in Central China's Hubei Province was one region where the coronavirus broke out, but whether or not the region was the birthplace or sole birthplace of the virus had yet to be confirmed.

Scientific research showed the coronavirus had genetic differences in different regions around the globe and seemingly separate pathogenicity and lethality, Yang noted. 

That would support the theory that the virus broke out of multiple regions not just China, the Chinese scientist said.

Yang refuted the theory that the virus mutated as it spread from China to other countries.

"There was no way so many mutations could occur in such a short period," Yang said.

Cui said Western media and politicians fueled rumors, passed the buck and smeared China.

Apolitical scientific research should be conducted to trace the origins of the virus, Cui believed.

"Rather than promote the scientific investigation and research into the virus, Western politicians and many biased media chose to spread rumors saying the origin is China's Wuhan and that China's laboratory developed the virus, and asked China to compensate for losses due to the pandemic," Cui said.

All these "groundless accusations" were based on presumption of a crime for political purposes, Cui said.

"As long as the virus is not human-made, wherever its origin, people have no reason to blame the birthplace," Cui said.

French right-wing politicians and media including Le Figaro have accused Wuhan's P4 virology laboratory of loose management, asserting it as the origin of the novel coronavirus. 

The newspaper claimed China tried to cover up the coronavirus emergency as well as the scale of the outbreak and lied about the death toll.

Chinese analysts noted such noise from media and politicians were groundless and went against the cooperative tendency between France and China as well as global cooperation in fighting the pandemic.