China maneuvers to deny the virus originated in Wuhan

Xi Jinping's government insists that the first cases of covid-19 are from outside of the country

In China, it is rare that the news does not begin with the discovery of a new batch of frozen products arriving from abroad and in which traces of covid-19 have been located. It is also strange that in the daily count of cases - the few that exist - there are local ones: they are always (or almost) imported, that is, of people who return to Chinese territory from the rest of the world. And this is not by chance. Since the Chinese government has the pandemic under control - a success that President Xi Jinping never gets tired of repeating - the message it sends out is clear: the danger is abroad. It is in no case within the borders of the Asian giant.

And, together with this, there is another message that the regime is trying to convey: Wuhan was not the origin of this pandemic that has stopped the world. The Chinese media, all dependent on the government, have long been echoing the studies that point to the possibility that the virus circulated in other parts of the world - the United States, Italy, and also Barcelona - before it was detected in Wuhan. Beijing is looking hard for any evidence that would prove or, at the very least, sow doubts about the thesis that the Chinese city was the origin of everything. These efforts are part of a political objective to try to erase the mistakes made at the beginning of the health crisis, when the authorities of the Asian country wanted to hide the epidemic and silenced those who raised their voices, such as the late doctor Li Wenliang, who warned of the outbreak of a strange and dangerous pneumonia in Wuhan.

There are many examples of this strategy. The media and social networks have reported and widely discussed a U.S. study that saw indications, when testing blood samples, that the virus was circulating in the United States before December 2019. The same attention was given to a search by the Milan Cancer Institute, which found antibodies to covid-19 in blood and tissue samples from its patients. The results could indicate that the virus was already present in Italy in October 2019. Barcelona was also identified as a possible source of infection when it was published that traces of the virus had been discovered in samples of wastewater from March 2019.

In China, all these reports have been repeated over and over again, although none of these investigations has been considered decisive for the international community. In contrast, it is not known whether Beijing has analysed blood, tissue or wastewater samples from the previous months. The first recorded case is from 17 November. The epidemic spread in December, but the new coronavirus was not reported and human-to-human transmission was not recorded until January. There is no information on what happened during previous months.

The Chinese scientific world and also members of the government defend that Wuhan was the place where the virus was first detected, but they claim that it cannot be assured that it originated in this city. They simply point out that it was detected there. Recently, a study by the Shanghai Institute of Biological Sciences also adopted this theory and pointed to the Indian subcontinent as the place where the first human transmission of the virus would have occurred. And there is more. In statements to the press, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying confidently stated that the epidemic emerged in multiple locations, not just in Wuhan. And she stressed that verifying this is a scientific task that must be undertaken globally.

International team

Now Beijing is negotiating with the World Health Organization (WHO) the entry of an international team of ten specialists to China to study the origin of the virus and how the jump from animals to humans took place. It remains to be seen what they will actually be able to investigate and what freedom President Xi Jinping will give them.

At the beginning of the year, the WHO scientists who went to Wuhan did not even get permission to visit the animal market where the first outbreak occurred. It is difficult that, almost a year later, any clues can be found. Therefore, the WHO will most likely have to work on the preliminary study made exclusively by Chinese experts.

From Ground Zero to major tourist attraction

As in the rest of China, life has returned to a certain normality in Wuhan. The streets are alive again and the use of face masks is no longer generally mandatory. Even earlier this month the city government launched a powerful advertising campaign to clean up the image of the town and boost tourist arrivals. A promotional video repeated a slogan: "Let's meet again in Wuhan".