WIV, EcoHealth, the Mojiang ‘miners’ cases and a bat sampling trip in April 2012

Introduction:

What exactly happened at the Mojiang mine in April 2012 is important. It is in that mine that RaTG13 (aka. BatCov/4991) — the closest known relative to SARS-CoV-2 — was sampled in 2013 by the WIV virus hunters.

The medical cases of the 6 workers clearing guano from the Mojiang mine:

From the MS Thesis by Li Xu, we know that workers started removing bat guano from the Mojiang abandoned copper mine on the 2nd April 2012. No reason for their work is given.The first batch of 4 workers started on Monday the 2nd April for a 2 week period (to Friday the 16th April). They were all middle-aged (42, 45, 46, 63). They all started experiencing symptoms between the 10th and 16th April.

Summary of the workers’ cases
Timeline of events

Conflicting conclusions:

Under the guidance of SARS expert Dr Zhong Nan Shan, the MS Thesis states that:

  • It totally ignores the opinion and diagnostic of the top expert in the field, Dr Zhong Nan Shan.
  • It also totally ignores the 4 SARS antibodies test done at the WIV that all turned out positive (see PhD thesis, 3.3 Discussion).
  • It further ignores the fact that the WIV did indeed follow the lead of Dr Zhong Nan Shan and went sampling bats in that very cave in 2013.
  • Last it ignores the very finding of the WIV researchers themselves (including Shi Zheng Li) that disclosed in a 2013 Nature paper that horseshoe bats from around Kun Ming (Yunnan) — that they sampled between April 2011 and September 2012 — indeed had the potential to directly infect humans. This key paper was followed by an important Nature paper in 2015 which concluded that there is ‘a potential risk of SARS-CoV re-emergence from viruses currently circulating in bat populations’, based on a SARS receptor experiment using a chimeric virus.

The April 2012 Sampling trips:

EcoHealth + WIV collected many samples (a few 100s) from bats on sites not far from Mojiang in April 2012.

  • Yuanjiang: 07-Apr-12
  • Mengla — Xishuangbanna Botanical Garden: 11-Apr-12, 15-Apr-12, 16-Apr-12 [3]
  • Mengla — Natural Arch: 18-Apr-12
Sampling Trips
  • Available GPS coordinates for all points, except for odd Mojiang sampling location given by data.predict.global (approximate ~23.35N, 101.5716E based on PREDICT map above).
  • The Mojiang mine itself is at 23° 10' 36"N, 101° 21' 28"E. The mine was derelict and abandoned. It is also known as the Bengping copper mine (蚌坪銅礦). It seems to have been a rudimentary setup at its peak during the Great Leap Forward when a few thousand people were sent to work there with minimal equipment, producing only around 75t of copper per year.

The hospital trips:

Somehow the 6 rural workers all ended up in the same Kun Ming hospital, around the same date for the first 4, and despite different heath states at admission.

Some questions:

  • Why did the 6 rural patients all end up in Kun Ming hospital (350km from the Mojiang mine) when there are hospitals in Yuxi on the way to Kun Ming but only 250 km away, or in Puer city only 111km away?
  • How could these two batches of admissions in the same distant hospital — all around the 26th April for the first 4 patients, and irrespective of the patients medical states (4 were in bad health on arrival, the 2 younger ones were not that bad) — happen without some form of coordination?
  • Concerning patient #6, the MS Thesis states that: ‘He went to the local hospital for treatment but no documentation. His symptoms had improved but wanted further treatment’. The MS Thesis further gives his initial physical examination which is not that bad (only the CT scan revealed a pulmonary infection). What happened to his documentation at the local hospital? Why did he bother travelling 350km if already improving and actually not doing badly when there were hospitals much closer?
  • Shouldn’t we expect that potentially more workers were working in the abandoned mine if the 6 admissions at the distant Kun Ming hospital were just coincidences?
  • What happened to the ‘possible epidemics outbreak’ report of the medical officer in charge of the Emergency Department of Kun Ming hospital, filed with the medical affair department on the arrival of the 5th patient there? What did the local CDC office do with it?
  • Why did the initial SARS-CoV tests done for patients Guo and Liu (by the Kun Ming-based Chengdu Military Region Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) return negative, when later the SARS-CoV tests on the same patients done by the WIV at the instigation of Dr Zhong Man Shan returned positive?
  • Why did the CDC and the WIV ignore the strong opinion of top SARS specialist Dr Zhong Nan Shan about the likely infection by a BatCov — and this for years following the MS Thesis publication — despite (1) the positive SARS antibodies tests of four workers done at the WIV, and (2) the very own published research of the VIW that soon demonstrated that direct bat-human infection by a BatCoV was possible?
  • Why did EcoHealth never mention the Mojiang cases in their assessment of potential pandemic risk from bat guano collection, or in the related 2013 paper, based on previous work at the famous Khao Chong Phran cave?
  • Why is http://data.predict.global not showing correct sampling sites for Apr 2012 ?
  • Why were these workers clearing out guano 150m deep into the abandoned mine?
  • Who employed these workers?
  • Were the workers possibly employed to prepare the mine for bat sampling within the cave?
  • What is typically the local CDC office involvement with site preparation and guidance of sampling teams to the sampling sites?
  • Did EcoHealth and/or the WIV sample, or intend to sample, at the Mojiang abandoned mine in April 2012?
  • Why did the second batch of workers consist of much younger workers than the first batch, after the first batch fell ill?

Post Scriptum:

Following the publication of this article, we became aware of an important publication by a small team lead by some conservation biologists from Xishuangbanna Botanical Garden, which was the last sampling site during that Apr 2012 sampling trip.

  • It is the first article to systematically reject the wet-market hypothesis based on a careful analysis of available sequences to that date.
  • It tried to unravel the evolutionary links between Covid-19 and RaTG13, the virus that likely killed the non-miners.
  • It complained about the sequences for early cases not being published, which would greatly help understand the early evolution of the virus.
  • It clearly stated that the breakout may have started in November, not with the official December cases.
  • Yu, Wen-Bin was and still is a conservation biologist at the Xishuangbanna Botanical Garden with a focus on botany
  • Tang, Guang-Da was at the time a conservation biologist from Shaogan University
  • Zhang, Li was a scientist from the Chinese Institute for Brain Research (Beijing). The only one with a strong genomics background,
  • Corlett, Richard T was and still is a Cambridge-educated senior conservation biologist at the Xishuangbanna Botanical Garden (since July 2012), with a wide expertise including climate change.

References:

  1. Jonathan Latham, Allison Wilson. ‘A Proposed Origin For SARS-CoV-2 And The COVID-19 Pandemic’. Aug 2020. Available at: https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/SC2008/S00025/a-proposed-origin-for-sars-cov-2-and-the-covid-19-pandemic.htm
  2. Rahalkar MC, Bahulikar RA, ‘The Origin of ‘BatCoVRaTG13’, a Virus Closest to SARS-CoV-2'. Available at: https://doi.org/10.20944/preprints202005.0322.v1.
  3. For a very interesting paper coming out of Mengla, see preprint on 21 Feb 2020: http://chinaxiv.org/abs/202002.00033, final paper in May 2020: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7231477/. That paper, surprisingly written by conservation biologists, was the first paper to systematically refute the wet market hypothesis. It also concluded that the breakout would have started quite likely in late November and pointed to the need to publish more sequences from early cases to be able to understand the link between RATG13 and SARS-CoV-2.

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Gilles Demaneuf

Gilles Demaneuf

Opinions, analyses and views expressed are purely mine and should not in any way be characterised as representing any institution.