Coronavirus may have emerged from a Wuhan laboratory leak, which studies deadly pathogens such as the SARS virus, scientists suggest.
Health officials believe the severe acute coronavirus 2 respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV-2), which causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19), originates from wild animals sold in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in Wuhan city. , which is home to 11 million residents.
Now, a team of scientists from the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the University of Southern China and the Chinese Institute for Brain Research has written in an article published on ChinaXiv, on an alternative source of coronavirus that is currently spreading around the world.
Scientists say they have found genomic evidence that the fish market is not the true source of the epidemic. Instead, they point to the source of the viral epidemic towards a laboratory that studies powerful viruses.
The Wuhan Virology Institute, located a few meters from the fish market, researches some of the world’s most dangerous pathogens. It is the first Chinese biosafety level 4 laboratory, the highest level of safety needed to isolate hazardous biological agents in a closed facility.
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The spread of the virus
Scientists at the study speculated that the virus outbreak started before December 2019, probably starting in late November. In addition, the fast-paced fish market may have facilitated the transmission of the virus to buyers and from buyers to residents across the city.
In the study, the researchers collected whole-genome information from 93 new coronavirus samples shared on GISAID EpiFlu, which is an international database that stores information about the flu virus. The team has studied the evolution and human-to-human transmission of coronavirus in the past two months.
The samples were taken from 12 countries, where 54 came from China before January 22nd and the other 39 samples came from France, Australia, Japan and the United States after January 22nd.
The team also found that while the virus had spread to the Wuhan fish market, there had also been two major population expansions, dated December 8 and January 6. In addition, scientists believe that the virus originated outside the market, but the crowded market had favored coronavirus circulation, spreading it across the city by December 2019.
The first case showing symptoms emerged on 8 December and most of the following cases were linked to the fish market. On January 1, the seafood market was closed, but the virus had already spread to the city, suggesting that the epidemic started through human-to-human transmission by the end of November.
Notice about new virus
“The study of whether the huanan market is the only birthplace of SARS-CoV-2 is of great significance for finding its source and determining the intermediate host to control the epidemic and prevent it from spreading again,” the researchers said.
The researchers also said that while at the start of the epidemic in Hubei province and surrounding areas, the Chinese National Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued a level 2 emergency notice on the new outbreak on January 6, the information was not widely shared. The team said that if the warning had received more attention, the number of cases in China and around the world would have been reduced.
The government blocked the city of Wuhan on January 23, a few weeks after the outbreak was reported. Before the inhabitants were prevented from leaving the city in fear of spreading the virus, millions have already left.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is the only laboratory in China that is equipped to study with these deadly infectious diseases, issued a statement stating that the rumors had caused serious harm to the laboratory’s researchers.
The origin of the new coronavirus is still unknown, but scientists and the World Health Organization (WHO) have claimed that it is most likely a tank of animals.
Coronavirus by numbers
Coronavirus (COVID-19) has already spread to 30 countries, with South Korea reporting the highest number of infections after China. At the time of writing, there are 763 people in South Korea who test positive for the deadly virus.
Coronavirus infected nearly 80,000 people, most of them in mainland China, and the death toll reached 2,670, which is more than double the number of SARS-related deaths in 2003.
Countries around the world, especially those that fear the rapid spread of the virus, have imposed travel bans from countries that have confirmed coronavirus cases. In the meantime, Italy also reported a peak in cases, with 155 people tested positive while three patients succumbed to the disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that no new countries have reported confirmed cases in the past 24 hours.