Chinese researchers are claiming that the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China, and has since caused a worldwide pandemic may actually have originated in India.
A team of researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences analyzed the genome of the coronavirus to find the strain with the least amount of mutations, then track down where it might have originated from. The researchers claimed that their research suggested that the “least mutated strain” originated in India or a surrounding country.
China has been a repeated source of misinformation surrounding the coronavirus, and Beijing has previously baselessly accused the United States and, in a separate incident, Italy for releasing the coronavirus. The new research contradicts reporting that the virus originated in Wuhan and spread to the rest of the world as the Chinese government suppressed key details about the outbreak.
The paper has already received heavy criticisms from experts in virus research. David Robertson, a professor at the University of Glasgow’s Center for Virus Research, called the Chinese paper “very flawed,” according to the Daily Mail.
“The author’s approach of identifying the ‘least mutated’ virus sequences is … inherently biased,” Robertson said. “The authors have also ignored the extensive epidemiological data available that shows clear emergence in China and that the virus spread from there.”
“This paper adds nothing to our understanding of SARS-CoV-2,” he added.
The team of Chinese researchers said the coronavirus could be traced back as early as July 2019, months before it was first discovered in Wuhan in December.
“The statistical analysis of the SARS-CoV-2’s strain diversity in different countries/regions shows that the Indian subcontinent has the highest strain diversity,” the Chinese researchers wrote in their study. “Furthermore, based on the SARS-CoV-2’s mutation rate, we estimate that the earliest SARS-CoV-2 transmission in human hosts could be traced back to July or August of 2019.”
“Both the least mutated strain’s geographic information and the strain diversity suggest that the Indian subcontinent might be the place where the earliest human-to-human SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurred, which was three or four months prior to the Wuhan outbreak,” the researchers claimed.
The virus spread to humans amid a severe heat wave in the region of northern India which increased the chances of humans and animals sharing a single source of water, according to the Chinese researchers. The conditions allowed the virus to spread from animals to humans.
“From May to June 2019, the second longest recorded heat wave had rampaged in northern-central India and Pakistan, which created a serious water crisis in this region,” the report says, according to the U.K. Express. “The water shortage made wild animals such as monkeys engage in the deadly fight over water among each other and would have surely increased the chance of human-wild animal interactions.”
The scientists later called the virus “inevitable” and claimed that Wuhan was part of a wider outbreak.