Even so, there is one question that remains unanswered- was it a lab or a seafood market that leaked the virus?
With the U.S. and growing global authorities pressing for a more thorough investigation, it has now become more evident than ever to know where, and what caused the virus to leak.
Why is the current investigation so important?
The need to delve into the origins follows up a recent international WHO-led team effort to probe the origins of the spread of the SARS-COV-2 infection which was found to be “inconclusive”. But what will a newer, deeper detailed investigation into the origins of the pandemic find us? Why is it so much more important to know why it happened, how it started?
The answer to this lies in the confusing truths and theories circulated around the pandemic’s origin to date.
Ever since the SARS-COV-2 strain was first reported to have emerged from Wuhan, China around November 2019, there have been countless theories- was it a ‘man-made’ virus that unfortunately leaked from a lab, or just a case of a virus that naturally spread from bats on to humans?
There have also been important case reports which have suggested that the origins of the pandemic may even have been underplayed, and people were already being sick enough before we came to know the magnitude of COVID-19.
Multiple theories, case studies and investigations have marred us from getting to the truth. However, at a juncture like right now, getting to the truth becomes more important than ever to avert future crises of such global proportions and devastating outcomes.
Origin of the COVID-19 pandemic: What do we know so far
To date, there have been many narratives weaved around the origins of the pandemic, as we know it.
The most popular and believed origin, as also surfaced by Chinese authorities remains the origin of the infection via a wildlife market, wherein it was assumed that the virus jumped from a bat onto a human, patient zero, who went on to spread the virus. The WHO was first informed of a pneumonia-like outbreak in Wuhan, where multiple cases were reported on December 31, 2019.
While the origin of the virus ordered the city of Wuhan to enter into a forced enclosure and strict norms by the end of December 2019 and soon enough, it started to spread via international borders and became much more severe in countries including the USA, UK, Italy, India, Brazil.
However, while this theory has been believed for a long, the emphasis on the apparent lab-leak origin is what is the most concerning, and subject to current research.
Did the virus really leak via a lab? Or are these just theories?
The earliest of claims and suspicions of the ‘lab’ theory started to float around February 2020, when the pandemic was only slowly spreading and the world was largely living life sans masks and lockdowns.
In one of the research papers, which were later withdrawn, some Chinese researchers cited fears that the coronavirus, which had a high genome match with a bat coronavirus “probably originated from a laboratory”. Even though medical authorities disprove it, there began growing calls to believe that the virus, indeed, emerged from a lab.
The theories were initially dismissed as being racist conspiracy theories. However, the call to delve further into the origins grew well into the second half of the year.
More evidence into the lab-leak origin floated around in July 2020, when it was reported that a virus, similar in nature to SARS-COV-2 was traced to an old copper mine, and miners reporting undergoing similar symptoms and lung opacities as COVID-19 patients. US Intelligence briefings also surface a report mentioning at least 3 WIV (Wuhan Institute of Virology) falling severely sick with respiratory symptoms in October-November 2019.
By the end of 2020, with newer coronavirus variants wreaking havoc across the world and causing widespread devastation, come forward stronger claims of laboratory origin of the coronavirus. Repeated talks of theories and pressing evidence is now making authorities world over press for stronger investigations into the origins. The hypothesis of the lab origin still remains under question.
Are there lessons to be learnt here?
The pandemic has caused widespread devastation, spared no country and in many cases, wiped off entire families. We are still fighting the pandemic’s bad surge and there are strong reports to suggest that there could be many more waves we might be facing in the future.
Even though we do have vaccines to negate the risk of COVID-19, it is crucial to remember that the pandemic isn’t really going to fade away. Finding the origins of the virus, which landed us here can not just help us get to the root issue, but also, as experts believe, mitigate future risks of pandemics we may face.
While there’s an investigation underway, epidemiologists have highlighted that even a lab-origin theory may give the world potential clues as to how to prevent lab-origin infections and help the world deal with pandemics better.
Lessons for India: Where do we go and how do we prevent future pandemics?
The pandemic brought even the wealthiest and the most powerful of nations to a standstill. However, as has been long debated, for countries like ours, there are huge lessons to be learnt.
From the dire need to ramp up medical infrastructure to affordable healthcare and vaccination awareness, there also need to be ramped up investments in scientific know-how, to beat the virus, before it gets the better of us.