Jennifer Shaheen Hussain
As human civilization grapples with the devastating outbreak of coronavirus pandemic, there are endless prepositions that continue to revolve around the origin of the deadly contagion.
Scientists, researchers, law and order enforcement agencies, and policymakers have led investigations on the theory of an alleged accidental release from a lab in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
Amid the controversies surrounding the Wuhan lab theory, there were reports that the emergence of the virus is associated with a study conducted in 2017 by a team from China and the US on bats and bats and humans carrying antibodies to deadly viruses like Ebola. The results of the study were published in October last in the PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases journal, originally established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In February 2020, the Indian government had ordered an inquiry by researchers from the U.S., China and India.
The Indian research organisations- Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) who conducted the study thereafter released an official statement that read, “Researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology were not directly involved in the study. They were listed co-authors ONLY because they supplied reagents critical to the study to Duke-NUS. This is standard practice for scientific authorship,” and added, “No biological samples or infectious agents were transferred into or out of India, and this study has NO connection with Coronaviruses”.
A year later senior BJP MP and former union minister Subramanian Swamy said that the Indian government’s probe report stated that the study was done ‘illegally’.
He tweeted: “It is confirmed a Government inquiry into the joint research on Bat Virus in Mimi Village, Nagaland by Wuhan Institute of Infectious Diseases & Tata Institute for Fundamental Research was without proper Government prior permission. FCRA was violated. Inquiry Report is with Cab Secy.”
In fact this study is even alarming in relation to the internal security of the country. Could such a study by reputed research organisations be conducted without the approval and knowledge of an authorizing body?
Even to this day several media reports while reporting on issues related to the origin of the virus mention about the zoonotic spillover refers to the virus jumping from bats to humans.
On May 14, as reported by PTI, a group of leading UK and US scientists, including Indian-origin Cambridge University immunology and infectious disease expert Ravindra Gupta, called for more investigation to determine the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of May 24, the overall global Covid-19 caseload has topped 167.1 million, while the deaths have surged to more than 3.46 million, according to the Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, India’s death toll due has crossed three lakhs by May 24 and has the third highest fatality count.
Global health systems and economies have collapsed since the first outbreak in China back in 2019. World Health Organisation, healthcare providers, and the government are ensuring for rapid vaccination drives and treatments to combat the fatal virus.
But what remains a mystery is the genesis of this virus that remains widely debated and unless that is carried out, can there be a way for countries to protect themselves and their people in the future?
Scientists recently at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the US ordered for an inquiry and said: A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimise the impact of conflicts of interest. Public health agencies and research laboratories alike need to open their records to the public.
A bona fide investigation is required while the pandemic continues to affect globally in different waves claiming millions of innocent lives. Residing as global citizens with scientific temperament, and in a technologically and scientific world, it is of utmost priority whether the Sars-Cov-2 virus is an accidental leak caused by human errors, or if it is originated naturally and as a human civilization will we learn to live with Covid as a season flu that infects our lungs and weakens organs or take lives.