Currently, 174,751,298 people are suffering from COVID-19 worldwide and 3,762,901 people have died. The number is growing and despite the vaccine drive and other efforts by all countries to bring the effects of COVID-19 under check.
Now, experts around the world are trying to trace the origin of the disease. U.S. infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci's plea to China to release information on six labourers who died of COVID-like symptoms has made China's Mojiang Mine the center of controversy.
The six miners were assigned to clean bat waste and bat feces in the copper mineshaft in Tongguan, Mojiang in Yunnan in April 2012. They worked there for 14 days and six out of them started having breathing problems along with cough, head ache, chest pain and fever. They were admitted to the Kunming hospital in late April and early May. Within 100 days of showing symptoms, three of the miners died and three managed to survive.
Li Xu's Thesis on Six Miners from Mojiang
Li Xu, a postgraduate student of Kunming Medical University, wrote a thesis on these six miners and was published in 2013. The thesis included medical reports, radiological images such as CT scans, and detailed information regarding the diagnosis and treatment of the six miners aged between 30 and 63.
According to Li's paper [available in China's scientific paper archive at cnki.net], the six miners had symptoms of a "SARS-like" coronavirus contracted from horseshoe bats. In 2012, the virus was called as Mojiang virus.
The thesis also had a point that coronavirus which is quite similar to SARS-CoV-2 could have been infecting humans as early as 2012. Reports also claim that thesis even provided circumstantial evidence for broader allegations that WIV had captured, studied and conducted "gain of function" experiments on viruses found in the mine, including RaTG13.
In fact, China's top bat coronavirus researcher Shi Zhengli of Wuhan Institute of Virology [WIV], identified as many as 293 coronaviruses in and around the mine between 2012 and 2015. After extensive research, eight other kinds of 'SARS-Like' coronavirus samples were taken from the site. But Shi and other researchers had said that none of the eight was a closer match to SARS-CoV-2 than RaTG13. According to Shi's studies, RaTG13 shares 96.2% of its genome with SARS-CoV-2. However, Shi is said to have retested 13 serum samples from four of the patients and found no sign they had been infected with SARS-CoV-2.
India-Based Scientists' Research
In another research about the origin of COVID-19, India-based scientists Dr Monali Rahalkar and Dr Rahul Bahulikar stated that they had studied the documents related to an abandoned copper mine in Mojiang in south China. Speaking to India Today, after a thorough study they claimed that the mineshaft was full of bat droppings which are crumbly and turn to dust when touched. "When someone walks on it, the dried pellets burst and get mixed into the atmosphere around, making the air allergic if inhaled," said Dr Rahalkar.
The six miners also got ill and exhibited symptoms that are commonly seen in COVID-19 patients. Dr Monali Rahalkar also said that some of the miners even had pulmonary thromboembolism (blockage of an artery in the lungs). According to Dr Rahalkar, the radiological reports of COVID-19 patients were similar to those of the six miners from Mojiang. The CT scans of the miners had ground-glass opacities which were peripheral and match the characteristics of scans of COVID-19 patients.
They also said that the medicines administered to the six miners were also similar to the ones being given to COVID-19 patients. "The miners were treated with antiviral antibiotics because there were some secondary infections, including fungal infections," said Dr Monali Rahalkar.
In addition to Li Xu and Dr Monali Rahalkar and Dr Rahul Bahulikar's claims, Dr Zhong Nanshan, the pulmonologist popular as the Corona Doctor of China, also had concluded that the condition of six miners was the result of a viral infection.