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Debate Over Covid-19 Patient Zero in Wuhan China Heats Up

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Debate Over Covid-19 Patient Zero in Wuhan China Heats Up

Scientist, Michael Worobey who has pored over public accounts of early Covid-19 cases in China says that the World Health Organization (WHO) inquiry got the early chronology of the covid-19 in Wuhan, China wrong.

Worobey’s new analysis suggests that the first ground zero patient sickened with covid-19 was most likely a vendor in a large Wuhan animal market. Not the WHO’s claim of an accountant who lived many kilometers away from the wet market.

Scientist, Michael Worobey’s report, published on Thursday in the prestigious Journal of Science, will revive, although certainly not settle, the debate over whether the pandemic started with spillover from wildlife sold at the market, a leak from a Wuhan virology laboratory, or some other way.

The search for the origins of the greatest public health catastrophe in the last century has fuelled geopolitical battles, with few new facts emerging in recent months to resolve the question.

Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market

Scientist, Michael Worobey, an expert in tracing the evolution of viruses at the University of Arizona, came upon timeline discrepancies by combing through what had already been made public in medical journals. He also scanned through video interviews in a Chinese news outlet with people believed to have the first two documented infections.

Worobey argues that the vendor’s ties to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, as well as a new analysis of the earliest hospitalized patients’ connections to the market, strongly suggest that the pandemic began there.

“In this city of 11 million people, half of the early cases are linked to a place that’s the size of a soccer field,” Worobey said. “It becomes very difficult to explain that pattern if the outbreak didn’t start at the market.”

Several experts, including one of the pandemic investigators chosen by the WHO, said Worobey’s detective work was sound and that the first known case of Covid was most likely a seafood vendor.

But some of them also said the evidence was still insufficient to decisively settle the larger question of how the pandemic began. They suggested that the virus probably infected a “patient zero” sometime before the vendor’s case and then reached critical mass to spread widely at the market.

Super spreading event in Wuhan China

Studies of changes in the virus’s genome — including one done by Worobey himself — have suggested that the first infection happened in roughly mid-November 2019, weeks before the vendor got sick.

“I don’t disagree with the analysis,” said Jesse Bloom, a virus expert at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. “But I don’t agree that any of the data are strong enough or complete enough to say anything very confidently, other than that the Huanan Seafood Market was clearly a super spreading event.”

Bloom also noted that this was not the first time the WHO report, done in collaboration with Chinese researchers, was found to contain mistakes, including errors involving early patients’ potential links to the market.

“It’s just kind of mind-boggling that in all of these cases, there keep being inconsistencies about when this happened,” he told the New York Times.


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