Beijing [China], July 1 (ANI): As China has geared up to celebrate the 100th founding anniversary of Chinese Communist Party, growing calls for a fresh investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, which originated from the country's Wuhan Institute of Virology, continues to plague the occasion.
The so-called "lab leak" theory, once dismissed by the mainstream media, has gained traction after a series of revelations. It has become the subject of renewed public debate after several prominent scientists called for a full investigation into the origins of the virus.
In a meeting last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping said they must work to create an image of China as a country that is "humble, trustworthy, loved and respected". Despite that, China has been aggressively clamping down on any attempt or opinion that seems to implicate it for releasing the deadly virus into the world, infecting over 180 million people and resulting in over 3.9 deaths worldwide.
An explosive new report has emerged that China deleted early coronavirus data in a possible bid to conceal its origins -- hence impeding the World Health Organization's (WHO) probe of the virus.
According to a scientific paper published on Wednesday, over a dozen coronavirus test sequences that were taken during the pandemic's early months were removed from an international database used to track the virus' evolution.
A Wall Street Journal (WSJ) investigation also found that China, while resisting international pressure, delayed the probe for months, secured veto rights over participants and insisted its scope cover other countries as well.
The WHO-led team of scientists that traveled to China in early 2021 to investigate the origins of the virus struggled to get a clear picture of what research China was conducting beforehand, faced constraints during its visit and had little power to conduct thorough, impartial research without the blessing of China's government.
The team had initially declared that a lab accident was an extremely unlikely cause of the pandemic. However, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus later called for further investigation into the lab-leak hypothesis.
Jesse Bloom, a virologist and professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, discovered the deletion of some early sequences of coronavirus from Wuhan which were missing from the Sequence Read Archive, a public archive of high throughput sequencing data, and noted that it seems likely that sequences were deleted by Chinese researchers "to obscure their existence."
"Evidence from these patients could suggest whether the virus jumped from an animal host to a human, in a zoonotic spillover, or whether the infection came from an inadvertent accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was actively studying bat coronaviruses and their potential to infect people. So far, the earliest cases have not been found," says a report on Washington Post.
The article says Dr Bloom's discovery just adds to the pile of questions about whether China is hiding something.
A disused copper mine area in southwest China also entered the fray after the WSJ reported had become the subterranean home of the close known virus to the one that causes COVID-19. In April 2012, six miners fell sick with a mysterious illness after entering the mine to clear bat guano, out of which three died.
Unanswered doubts about the miners' illness, the viruses found at the site and the research done with them opened up questions that the SARS-COV-2 might have leaked from a lab in Wuhan.
Meanwhile, the WSJ disclosed a US intelligence report asserting that three WIV researchers became sufficiently ill in November 2019 to seek hospital care.
In late May, US President Joe Biden ordered that US intelligence agencies report to him within 90 days on how the virus emerged, with a focus on two scenarios -- whether the coronavirus came from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.
After the conclusion of the much-awaited Group of Seven (G7) meeting in the UK two months ago, Biden had called on China to act more responsibly in terms of international norms on human rights and transparency concerning the origins of COVID-19.
Speaking to reporters, Biden said: "I think China has to start to act more responsibly in terms of international norms on human rights and transparency. Transparency matters across the board."
At the same time, scientists around the world and organizations such as the American Red Cross and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are looking for new clues in frozen blood, searching for COVID-19 antibodies or signs of infection.
At least four recent studies have identified coronaviruses closely related to the virus strain in bats and pangolins in Southeast Asia and Japan, a sign that these pathogens are more widespread than previously known and that there was ample opportunity for the virus to evolve.
In May, an explosive study has found that Chinese scientists created the virus in a lab in Wuhan, then tried to cover their tracks by reverse-engineering versions of the virus to make it look like it evolved naturally from bats.
The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus has no "credible natural ancestor" and was created by Chinese scientists who were working on a 'Gain of Function' project in a Wuhan lab, according to a report by British professor Angus Dalgleish and Norwegian scientist Dr Birger Sorensen.
As the COVID-19 continues to rage through the world with new variants creating a concern, the pressure on China to be more transparent regarding the origins of the virus is unlikely to abate in the near future. (ANI)