China Prepares To Test Blood Samples From 2019 To Hunt For Covid-19 Origins

source-scientific-american
source-scientific-american
  • According to scientists, if the samples were properly kept, they may contain vital indications of the first antibodies produced by humans against the disease.

  • The World Health Organization's team of experts identified the collection of up to 200,000 samples, including those from the final months of 2019, being stored at the Wuhan Blood Center.

China Prepares To Test Blood Samples From 2019 To Hunt For Covid-19 Origins

According to a Chinese official, China is planning to analyse tens of thousands of blood bank samples from the city of Wuhan as part of an investigation into the origins of Covid-19. The decision comes amid growing demands for more transparency about the virus's emergence.

The World Health Organization's team of experts identified the collection of up to 200,000 samples, including those from the final months of 2019, in February this year as a potential source of crucial information that could help determine when and where the virus first transferred into humans.

The samples are being stored at the Wuhan Blood Center and are thought to date back to 2019, giving real-time tissue samples from a large portion of the country in the Chinese city where SARS-CoV-2 is believed to have initially infected humans.

According to the Chinese authorities, the blood bank samples would be kept for two years in case they are required as evidence in any litigation relating to the blood donations.

That two-year waiting period will shortly come to an end for the crucial months of October and November 2019, when most scientists believe the virus first infected people. An official from China's National Health Commission told CNN that testing procedures are already underway, and also that testing would take effect once the two-year limit was reached.

“This provides the closest in the world we've seen of real time samples to help us understand the timing of the outbreak event," said Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Maureen Miller, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University said, they “absolutely will contain vital clues." She pleaded with China to allow international experts to observe the proceedings. “No one will believe any results that China reports unless there are qualified observers at the very least," she said.

Liang Wannian, the head of the Chinese team working on the WHO investigation, initially said in a July press conference that China would analyse the samples, adding that once the Chinese experts “have the results, they will deliver them to both the Chinese and foreign expert teams."

Liang said that the samples were taken from the opening tube of a donor blood pouch, sealed shut, and then kept, and that Chinese experts had “made several assessments and evaluations on the testing methods and action plan, which will be implemented after the expiry" of the two-year limit.

According to scientists, if the samples were properly kept, they may contain vital indications of the first antibodies produced by humans against the disease.

source-china-daily

While the first reported known case of covid-19 was in December 9th 2019 in Wuhan, “our research and the previous related research papers of Chinese scientists fully suggest … December 8 is probably not the primary case. There might be other cases that occurred before.", Liang stated in July 2021. 

The blood samples presented a “fascinating opportunity. You would like to go back to find out exactly during which months this virus started to leave fingerprints in the human population in China,", said Dr. William Schaffner, from the Vanderbilt University Department of Medicine's infectious disease department.

Miller said that the samples may potentially reveal who was initially affected, where they were infected, as well as their age and profession.

“It is common practice to de-identify the samples," she said. “So you could strip it down to basic demographics, age, gender and the neighborhood where they lived. All of that data will be available."

Schaffner proposed transporting the samples to Geneva or another neutral location so that WHO experts may participate in the testing.

source - wall street journal

The two potential issues with the blood samples could be “the integrity of the blood samples — ensuring they had not been recently created," but also how representative of the general population the blood donors were, he said. 

Miller added that many of the blood samples could have been drawn from healthy individuals, “so they'll represent asymptomatic cases. And as we've learned over the course of the pandemic, asymptomatic cases fuel the pandemic."

Huang mentioned it is unclear “to what extent the outside world would trust the findings as credible or convincing," and the sample testing could highlight a unique opportunity for China to “tell the world that they are serious about depoliticizing the origins probe."

source-the-japan-times

The Biden administration conducted a 90-day evaluation of the intelligence on how the virus originated, but according to an unclassified report, officials were still considering both natural transmission from animal to human and a lab leak as plausible theories, but couldn't determine which was more likely.

President Joe Biden stated after reviewing a classified version of the report: “Critical information about the origins of this pandemic exists in the People's Republic of China, yet from the beginning, government officials in China have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it."

China has insisted that it has been transparent and helpful to the WHO inquiry, and in its most recent statement about the theory that the virus leaked from a laboratory, it pointed to unproven claims about Fort Detrick, a US laboratory in Maryland, and the need to investigate its recent history.

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