China is preparing to test 200,000 blood bank samples from the city of Wuhan as part of an investigation into the origins of the new coronavirus, a Chinese official said, CNN reported. The move comes amid growing global calls for transparency about the emergence of the virus. But some experts say that China would undermine the credibility of the investigation if it excluded separate outside research.
In February, the WHO investigation team identified the storage of up to 200,000 blood samples, including samples from the last months of 2019, as a possible source of a key virus that could help determine when and where the virus first entered humans. The blood samples are stored at the Wuhan Blood Center, and according to China’s National Health Commission, blood banks must keep the samples for 2 years in case any donors need to use the blood as evidence in court.
A batch of 200,000 blood samples that began storage in 2019 is said to be due to expire, including samples that are said to have been taken at the point in time when the new coronavirus was introduced to humans and caused the first outbreaks.
Most experts believe that the first human infection by the virus may have occurred in October and November 2019, nearly two years ago. A Chinese National Health Commission official told CNN that preparations for the test are underway and confirmed that it will be conducted once blood bank samples reach the two-year retention period.
In response, Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health issues at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, “This could help us understand the timing of the outbreak event.” He added that it is unclear “to what extent the outside world will believe that these findings are credible or convincing,” and that the testing of blood samples represents an opportunity for China to “tell the world that they are serious about depoliticizing the origin investigation.
Maureen Miller, an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, also told CNN that the samples “will absolutely contain important clues. She urged China to allow foreign experts to watch the entire process. No one will believe any of the results reported by China unless there are at least qualified observers,” she said.
Meanwhile, William Schaffner, an infectious disease physician at Vanderbilt University Medical School, believes the samples provide “an excellent opportunity to look back and see exactly what month the virus started infecting the Chinese.
Miller added that the samples might even show who was first infected, where, and what their age and occupation were.
Schaffner also suggested that the samples should be sent to Geneva, or another less controversial location, to allow WHO experts to participate in the testing.
While China has said it has always supported and will continue to participate in scientific traceability, the report said, it stressed that “traceability efforts should be conducted in multiple countries and locations around the world in order to truly find the truth and answers. The U.S. investigation, published in August, noted that neither the natural origin of the new coronavirus nor the possibility of a laboratory leak could be ruled out. It also criticized Beijing for obstructing the investigation and resisting the sharing of information.
A few days ago, the World Health Organization said. A new team of experts is being set up to restart the investigation into the traceability of the new crown outbreak, but it has not yet been determined whether the new team of experts will be able to travel to China to conduct the investigation.