Wuhan (China), Feb 9: The coronavirus is unlikely to have leaked from a Chinese lab and is more likely to have jumped to humans from an animal, a World Health Organisation expert said on Tuesday.

WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Peter Ben Embarek made the assessment at the end of a visit to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where a team of scientists is investigating the possible origins of the coronavirus. The first cases were discovered in the city in December 2019.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology has collected extensive virus samples, leading to allegations that it may have caused the original outbreak by leaking the virus into the surrounding community. China has strongly rejected that possibility and has promoted other theories that the virus may have originated elsewhere. The team is considering several theories for how the disease first ended up in humans.

Our initial findings suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one that will require more studies and more specific, targeted research, Embarek said.

However, the findings suggest that the laboratory incidents hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus to the human population, Embarek said.

The WHO team draws on experts from 10 countries. Its mission is intended to be an initial step delving into the origins of the virus, which is believed to have originated in bats before being passed to humans through another species of wild animal, such as a pangolin or bamboo rat, which is considered an exotic delicacy by some in China.

Transmission through the trade in frozen products was also a likely possibility, Embarek said.

Another member of the WHO team told The Associated Press late last week that they enjoyed a greater level of openness than they had anticipated, and that they were granted full access to all sites and personnel they requested.

That expert, British-born zoologist Peter Daszak, said the team looked into issues including what the first cases were, the link with animals and what, if any, the role that imports of frozen food may have played -- a theory that China has long put forward.

The visit by the WHO team took months to negotiate after China only agreed to it amid massive international pressure at the World Health Assembly meeting last May, and Beijing has continued to resist calls for a strictly independent investigation.

Chinese authorities have kept a tight hold on information about the possible causes of the pandemic that has now killed more than 2.3 million worldwide.

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This report was first published in thewire.in and has been posted here without any alterations or editing. To read the original report, CLICK HERE

New Delhi: Over 650 members of civil society have demanded a stop to the ‘vendetta politics’ against Harsh Mander and other activists, adding that the Centre has been “misusing” regulatory institutions and laws like the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act (FCRA) to harass civil society institutions.

The statement comes after a case was registered under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act over alleged violations by two shelter homes in South Delhi which were established by the Centre for Equity Studies (CES), an NGO that Mander is associated with.

In the statement, the signatories said that the Centre’s targeting of Mander, a former IAS officer, and the CES is a continuation of the “politics of vendetta” and is symptomatic of how “those who dissent are being dealt with in India today”.

“The egregious attacks on the Centre for Equity Studies ranging from wild accusations of sexual misconduct in two of the children’s homes run by the organisation to the fishing expedition being undertaken by the Economic Offences Wing of Delhi Police are but two examples of the recent attacks on Harsh Mander and the institutions associated with him,” the statement says.

Condemning “the attacks on Harsh Mander and the Centre for Equity Studies”, the signatories demanded an end to “vendetta politics” and that regulatory institutions and laws should not be “misused” to harass civil society institutions. “Allow democratic spaces for civil society to operate and give due recognition of their role in nation-building,” the added.

The full statement, along with the list of signatories, has been reproduced below.

Civil Society statement for Harsh Mander/Centre for Equity Studies

Stop vendetta politics against civil society and persecution of citizens associated with civil society

One of the most disturbing trends in India in the recent years, along with the decline in Constitutional values and shrinking space for civil society, is the demonisation and persecution of activists and organisations. The active hounding of Harsh Mander, a former bureaucrat and one of the most respected names in civil society, and the institutions he is associated with like the Centre for Equity Studies (CES) is the most recent example of the vendetta politics of the government.

An officer of the Indian Administrative Service, Harsh Mander quit the civil service in 2002 in the wake of the Gujarat riots and has since then been a part of significant civil society initiatives. He has served as the head of ActionAid India, co-founder of the Centre for Equity Studies, co-founder of Karwan-e-Mohabbat – an initiative to promote love and communal harmony, and was member of the National Advisory Council chaired by the Chairperson of the UPA. His close association with people’s movements including the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) amongst others, gave him a unique perspective on social changes processes that is rare amongst social activists. Throughout his career, Harsh Mander’s central concerns have been the most marginalised people in India – the urban homeless, leprosy patients, Dalits and Muslims, and children living on the streets.

It is this aspect of his work that encapsulated the activities of the Centre for Equity Studies since it was founded more than two decades ago. Over the years, CES has emerged as one of the leading pro-poor policy institutions, bridging grassroots actions with constructive engagement on social policy. Till 2014, CES ran a network of 51 children’s homes across the country covering hundreds of children and was responsible for the Central Government’s guidelines on the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan for street children. CES brings out the annual India Exclusion Report which has emerged as one of the most authoritative report on social exclusion covering the most marginalised communities in the country. Between 2004 and 2014, CES was part of many of the processes for landmark rights-based legislations like the National Food Security Act and the Right to Information Act.

That the current regime has now chosen to target a distinguished civil society organisation like CES in the continuing politics of vendetta to silence Harsh Mander is symptomatic of how those who dissent are being dealt with in India today. The egregious attacks on the Centre for Equity Studies ranging from wild accusations of sexual misconduct in two of the children’s homes run by the organisation to the fishing expedition being undertaken by the Economics Offences Wing of Delhi Police are but two examples of the recent attacks on Harsh Mander and the institutions associated with him.

As civil society leaders representing a very wide range of constituencies and work across the country, we unequivocally condemn the attacks on Harsh Mander and the Centre for Equity Studies and demand:

  1. An end to vendetta politics towards Harsh Mander and the Centre for Equity Studies
  2. Stop misusing regulatory institutions and laws like the FCRA to harass Civil Society institutions
  3. Allow democratic spaces for civil society to operate and give due recognition of their role in nation building