The origins of the coronavirus that causes the disease known as COVID-19 continue to be up for debate. The U.S. and China have been trading barbs over the matter. We may never know the full story about the origins of the novel coronavirus, but that isn’t keeping people from speculating.
U.S. blames China for coronavirus origins
The origin of the coronavirus was Wuhan, China, and there's no debate about that. The virus that causes COVID-19 was reported to have been traced to an animal market in the city. However, many sources have pointed out the close proximity of the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention to the market.
In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, columnist David Ignatius wrote that the U.S. and China are engaged in a propaganda battle over the origin of the coronavirus.
"The two sides have traded some of the sharpest charges made between two nations since the Soviet Union in 1985 falsely accused the CIA of manufacturing AIDS," he argued.
U.S. intelligence doesn't believe the COVID-19 pandemic was started deliberately. Authorities have said that there's no sign that the coronavirus was engineered by humans. Thus, it's widely believed that the outbreak is the result of animal-to-human transmission in Wuhan. Researchers believe the virus was naturally transmitted from bats to humans, possibly through unsanitary conditions at the animal market.
However, officials haven't ruled out the possibility of an accidental infection at one of the labs in Wuhan (such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology), allowing a deadly bat virus that was being studied out into the world to infect other people.
China blames U.S. for COVID-19
Chinese authorities blamed U.S. military troops for the origins of the coronavirus. In March, Chinese foreign military spokesperson Lijian Zhao tweeted that the U.S. army could have brought the epidemic to Wuhan. He also retweeted an article that suggested U.S. troops could have spread COVID-19 while attending the World Military Games in October in Wuhan.
Later in the month, Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai told Axios on HBO that rumors about the coronavirus origins were "crazy" on both sides. A Trump administration official told Ignatius that President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed over the phone on March 27 to "focus on cooperative behavior."
Questions about the coronavirus' origins
Ignatius believes that the first story about the origin of the novel coronavirus, which is that it came from people who ate contaminated animals at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, "is shaky." Genetic sequencing did show that bats are the source of the virus that causes COVID-19.
However, he said bats weren't sold at that market. On the other hand, it is possible that animals that had contact with bats were sold at the market. He also called attention to a January study published by The Lancet which suggested that the first case of COVID-19 wasn't actually connected to the seafood market.
Rutgers University microbiologist Richard Ebright told Ignatius in an email that the first human could have gotten infected by the coronavirus in a "natural accident," either from bat to human directly or through another animal. He also said it could have occurred as an accidental infection of an employee at a lab. He added that the bat coronaviruses that were studied in the Wuhan lab were being studied at Biosafety Level 2, "which provides only minimal protection."
Ignatius also mentioned videos and articles showing Wuhan CDC workers handling bat coronaviruses without the proper safety gear. He also referenced a Chinese study that suggested the origin of the coronavirus was "probably" a laboratory in Wuhan. The study has since been withdrawn, as its author told The Wall Street Journal in February that it "was not supported by direct proofs."
Ignatius concluded that while accidents do happen, this is the time for China and the U.S. to work together in a crisis and prevent future pandemics by determining the origins of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.