Local snacks are seen at a street market almost a year after the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease in Wuhan, Hubei province.(REUTERS)
Local snacks are seen at a street market almost a year after the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease in Wuhan, Hubei province.(REUTERS)

‘Pure propaganda’: German scientist rebuts Chinese media on Covid origin

In an emailed interview with the Hindustan Times, Alexander Kekule strongly denied the version of his argument published in Chinese state media, saying his words were twisted out of context.
Hindustan Times, Beijing | By Sutirtho Patranobis , edited by Vinod Janardhanan
UPDATED ON DEC 14, 2020 06:02 PM IST

A top German biochemist quoted by Chinese state media as saying that the coronavirus did not originate in Wuhan has called it “pure propaganda” and said there is no evidence to suggest that the virus did not come from the central Chinese city.

Earlier this month, Chinese news outlets quoted Alexander Kekule, director of the Institute for Biosecurity Research in Halle, Germany, as saying that the virus originated in Italy.

“The novel coronavirus running rampant around the world is not the Wuhan variant, but a variant that mutated in north Italy,” China’s national broadcaster quoted Kekule as saying in an interview on German television.

“The starting point of the pandemic is not in Wuhan, ” official news agency Xinhua quoted him as saying.

In an emailed interview with the Hindustan Times, Kekule strongly denied the version of his argument published in Chinese state media, saying his words were twisted out of context.

“Chinese media are quoting from my recent bestseller book Der Corona-Kompass (The Corona Compass, available only in German so far) and from an interview I gave about the book in the popular German TV show Markus Lanz,” said Kekule, who also holds a chair as University Professor and Director of the Institute for Medical Microbiology at Martin Luther University in Halle.

“The origin of the virus in China is described in detail in my book, and also the Chinese efforts to conceal the magnitude of the outbreak at the beginning. I never stated that the virus originally came from Italy, this is pure propaganda,” he added.

The coronavirus first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December, 2019, before spreading across China, and triggering a global pandemic.

China has denied that it deliberately hid information about the spreading virus in January or earlier.

A year into the Coronavirus pandemic, China has effectively controlled the spread of Covid-19 within its borders, putting in place efficient lockdown and contract tracing measures and conducting mass testing for the virus for every small outbreak.

At the same time, Beijing, in the face of global criticism, has been trying to change the virus-origin theory and shift the blame outside. Several theories are in circulation – the origin could be the Indian subcontinent including India and Bangladesh or Saudi Arabia, Italy, the US and the US military, or imported frozen packaged food.

Kekule’s interview to a German channel was similarly picked up to fit into the narrative.

By the time the German expert reacted, his interview had spread across Chinese social media, with many thanking him for clearing China’s name.

“Unfortunately, they are taking one or two phrases out of context, giving my statement a made-up twist. Chinese state media are referring to my account of the outbreak in Northern Italy and my critique of the WHO and EU in this context,” Kekule said.

“There is, however, no scientific basis to deny that the virus originally came from China… I explained (on the television show) that the virus came of course from China, but the “G” variant was able to prevail in northern Italy because the outbreak was not detected there for several weeks, paving the way to the pandemic around the globe, including re-imports to China.”

Kekule explained that the “G variant” (carrying a D614G mutation in the S gene) of the virus emerged in northern Italy, possibly because the outbreak went undetected for several weeks there.

“The G variant is most likely more contagious than the variant originally detected in Wuhan. This might be the reason why it spread world-wide from Italy. Since July 2020, more than 99% of the virus strains analysed worldwide are G variants, i.e. the viruses presently circulating have their common origin in Northern Italy.”

The German scientist said that he went on the same television show to explain his position.

“The same evening I spoke again on the TV show Markus Lanz and we made it crystal clear that I had been misquoted in an act of propaganda,” he said.

“Science tells us, that humankind must change its behaviour towards nature, including the habit of killing wild animals that carry dangerous viruses,” he said.

“When even nations refuse to take responsibility of their actions, how should individuals learn to change their dangerous habits?”

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