Coronavirus did not come from animals in Wuhan market, study finds
Coronavirus did not come from a lab but was brought to the Wuhan wet market by humans, according to new research published this month.
Scientists examining how to stop future pandemics found the virus that causes Covid-19 had already pre-adapted to human transmission and was ‘imported’ into the market by humans.
The team said that because the market was decontaminated so quickly after the virus flared, it would not be possible to pinpoint how it jumped from bats to humans but stressed it would be ‘safer to more extensively limit human activity that leads to frequent or prolonged contact with wild animals and their habitats.’
The paper, titled SARS-CoV-2 is well adapted for humans, was written by Shing Hei Zhan, Benjamin Deverman and Yujia Alina Chan – although it has yet to be peer reviewed.
The team took a side-by-side comparison at how coronaviruses evolved looking at SARS and what we know as Covid-19.
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The report’s abstract read: ‘We were surprised to find that SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) resembles SARS-CoV in the late phase of the 2003 epidemic after SARS-CoV had developed several advantageous adaptations for human transmission.
‘Our observations suggest that by the time SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in late 2019, it was already pre-adapted to human transmission to an extent similar to late epidemic SARS-CoV.
‘However, no precursors or branches of evolution stemming from a less human-adapted SARS-CoV-2-like virus have been detected.
‘The sudden appearance of a highly infectious SARS-CoV-2 presents a major cause for concern that should motivate stronger international efforts to identify the source and prevent near future re-emergence.’
The paper, published on biorxiv.org, concluded that there was still considerable debate among the scientific community, as well as the wider public, as to whether the coronavirus originated from the Wuhan market.
China’s disease control website, said the first sources were detected in samples taken from the wet market and originated from animals sold there.
However, tracking how diseases leap from species to species suggests it was ‘imported into the market by humans’, the team said.
The scientists looked for clues in samples collected from the market in January, 2020 and found a striking contrast to those collected in the wake of the SARS outbreak of 2002-2004 – as there was ‘no animal sampling prior to the shut down and sanitisation of the market was reported’.
This makes it difficult to trace Covid-19 – of the 70 samples collected from wild animal vendors ‘it is unclear whether the latter samples are from animals, humans, and/or the environment’ – and only four, have passable coverage of SARS-CoV-2 genomes for analysis.
The team still think the samples provide enough data to suggest it was unlikely coronavirus ‘originated from an intermediate animal host, particularly if the most recent common ancestor jumped into humans as early as October, 2019’ and that the ‘SARS-CoV-2 genomes in the market samples were most likely from humans infected with SARS-CoV-2 who were vendors or visitors at the market.’
The findings will only fuel fire among those calling for an international inquiry into the pandemic.
MP Bob Seely, a member of the Commons’ Foreign Affairs Select Committee said: ‘We need to get to the bottom of many things in relation to Covid-19.
‘We need to know where this virus began, why we were told at one time there was no human transmission, and what was the role of the Chinese Communist Party.’
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