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Trump’s favorite COVID origin theory of a Wuhan lab leak just got crushed by new research

February 28, 2022, 8:16 PM UTC

Former President Donald Trump previously called the COVID virus “kung flu” and speculated that it originated in a Chinese lab.

But new research contradicts Trump’s claims, finding that the coronavirus may have been present in live animals sold in a market in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, and that the virus probably spread to people working or shopping there, the New York Times reported on Sunday. The virus likely started with at least two animal transmissions at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, with a mammal such as a raccoon dog serving as a host before it spread to humans, the study found.

“When you look at all of the evidence together, it’s an extraordinarily clear picture that the pandemic started at the Huanan market,” Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona and a coauthor of both studies, told the New York Times

The two reports haven’t yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal. They were posted on Zenodo, an open-access research repository developed under the European OpenAIRE program and operated by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. 

From Jan. 1, 2020, to March 2, 2020, a total of 923 environmental samples were taken within and around Huanan market. Of those, nearly 8% tested positive for COVID, according to one of the studies. Researchers found that environmental samples that tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus were associated with animal vendors, further strengthening the theory that COVID is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can be transmitted back and forth between animals and humans. 

Critics say there are gaps in the new findings. For example, the study acknowledges that the Huanan market sold animals “both susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and capable of transmitting it,” but fails to identify the specific animals that could have spread the virus to humans. 

This new evidence shines a different light on the origins of COVID, which is important because “understanding the circumstances that lead to pandemics is critical to their prevention,” according to the study.

As far as the circumstances leading up to the pandemic, Wuhan was the first place in the world where the virus was detected, in late 2019, according to BBC. In January 2020, China’s government determined it was the coronavirus, with Wuhan as the focal point, and kept it a secret for six days, according to AP News. By the time Chinese President Xi Jinping warned the public on Jan. 20, more than 3,000 people had already been infected

The issue of Chinese culpability for the virus has been highly politicized. The Chinese government was accused of hypocrisy and hubris for initially hiding the origins of the coronavirus, according to the New York Times. It was speculated that Jinping allowed COVID to spread in order to level the playing field with other countries and ensure that China was not a disadvantaged pariah, according to the Wall Street Journal

Ultimately, the authors of the latest studies said the findings reveal the need to be vigilant in situations in which wild animals and humans interact closely on a daily basis.

“Our results highlight the imperative of establishing intensive virus surveillance architectures. Such architectures will involve early detection of unexplained disease in humans, but must be complemented by a focus on wild, farmed, and traded animals where the risk of transmission to humans is greatest,” the study said. “The ability to more rapidly identify spillovers and novel pathogens will improve our capacity to contain pathogens with pandemic potential.”

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