China’s audacious campaign to clear Wuhan as the origin of the coronavirus pandemic has intensified over the last week, prompting an angry response from a leading virologist who says his words have been manipulated to shift blame elsewhere.
German epidemiologist Alexander Kekule has responded to a wave of Chinese state media articles that he says twisted his remarks regarding the G strain of Covid-19 found in northern Italy.
State agency Xinhua categorically claimed the virus did not originate in Wuhan, pinning the claim on Professor Kekule’s comments – a move he strongly refutes.
One headline read: “China is innocent.”
“This is pure propaganda,” Prof Kekule told The New York Times.
Prof Kekule continues to state the pandemic originated in China and fears the outbreak may have been concealed during its infancy.
Chinese media are using the emergence of the G variant in Italy for propaganda. The #coronavirus pandemic originated in China and the outbreak was possibly even concealed at the beginning. https://t.co/rwNCxM5O8E via @focusonline
— Prof Alexander Kekulé, MD PhD (@AlexanderKekule) December 1, 2020
Beijing pushes rhetoric ahead of investigation
Yet even Beijing continues to harbour belief the virus did not originate in China.
Late last month after he was pressed by reporters over the claims in state media, foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian pointed to overseas when it came to the origins of the virus.
“Although China was the first to report cases, it doesn't necessarily mean that the virus originated in China,” he said.
Last week foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said evidence suggested the outbreak of the pandemic occurred at “multiple locations worldwide”.
A now-deleted paper by a group of scientists linked to the state-run Academy of Sciences claimed the first human-to-human transmission of the virus occurred in India.
China’s rhetoric comes as the World Health Organisation looks to engage with Beijing over its investigations into the virus’s origins.
WHO’s emergencies chief Mike Ryan questioned the narrative pushed out by China.
"I think it's highly speculative for us to say that the disease did not emerge in China,” he said, stressing the WHO’s intentions to send researchers to the Wuhan food market for further investigation.
Yet China’s failure to show any acknowledgement the virus originated in China has prompted fear from Prof Kekule Beijing are unwilling to cooperate during a probe.
Sharing a CNN exclusive on leaked documents from Wuhan which indicate China attempted to conceal the severity of the virus, Prof Kukele said on Twitter China plays a key role in helping prevent a re-emergence.
“These CNN revelations are probably closer to the truth than the recent Chinese TV propaganda move,” he wrote.
“If China does not help finding the origin of coronavirus, the threat of re-emergence will persist.”
Fears over Covid investigation’s integrity
The UN health agency sent an advance team to Beijing in July to lay the groundwork for the probe.
But it has remained unclear when the larger team will be able to travel to China to start its work.
In late November, the WHO said it hoped to have a larger team of scientists on the ground “as soon as possible.”
China’s response to calls for an investigation have been well document, notably in Australia where rapidly-deteriorating relations between the two countries was first sparked by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s vocal stance on the need for a probe.
WHO has been accused of kowtowing to China while there are fears it has has allowed China to dictate the terms of an international investigation into the origins of the virus.
China’s leader Xi Jinping appears unwilling for the country’s reputation to be further tainted amid an investigation, with state media jumping on any suggestion the virus emerged anywhere but China proving to be a perfect opportunity to deflect from Beijing’s failings during the beginning of the Wuhan outbreak.
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