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Covid origin: What do we know about Wuhan CDC expedition in search of viruses?

A video, meant to promote China’s world-leading viral research, was aired in December 2019 by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV and was widely circulated on social media. The video titled ‘Youth In the Wild – Invisible Defender’ shows researchers scaling cavern walls in search of unknown viruses and the basis of new vaccines. Tian Junhua, one of the bat hunters, boasts about the extreme efforts taken to discover new viruses, calling the caves their “main battlefields.”

“Among all the known creatures, the bats are rich in various viruses inside. You can find most viruses responsible for human diseases like Rabies, Sars, and Ebola. Accordingly, the caves frequented by bats became our main battlefields,” says Tian, a researcher at Wuhan Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in the over seven-minute-long video.

“If our skin is exposed, it can easily come in contact with bat excrement and contaminated matter, which means this is quite risky,” he continues, as background music enhances the dramatic effect.

While the researcher was shown in the video handling sample vials without wearing full protective equipment, he underscores the need for caution during such expedition, saying, “It is while discovering new viruses that we are most at risk of infection.” The high-quality video was aired around the time when Wuhan residents started turning up at hospitals with pneumonia-like symptoms.

Also Read | Anthony Fauci calls on China to release medical records of Wuhan lab workers

What do we know about the expedition?

According to a Washington Post report, Wuhan CDC, the health agency that oversaw China’s early pandemic response, has not disclosed to the world if they found any viruses in the caves, frequented by bats, during the particular expedition shown in the video. It is not even clear when that expedition took place.

The hypothesis of the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 through a laboratory incident has gained credence in recent weeks, with a renewed demand for a new “transparent” investigation into the virus origin. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, the Wuhan CDC, which moved a laboratory on December 2, 2019, denied disruptions or incidents caused by the move. It also denied any storage or laboratory activities involving bat viruses before the coronavirus outbreak.

“[A] stance hard to reconcile with Tian’s boasts in the video about having visited dozens of bat caves and studied 300 types of virus vectors,” the Post said in its report.

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