As scientists probe COVID origin in bats, all eyes on live animal markets
- Researchers are probing how the novel coronavirus originated in bats
- A WHO team led an investigation into the origin of the virus in 2020
- Live animal markets could be the most likely place of the virus' origins
Four million lives lost and all of humanity disrupted, the scientific search for the origins of the novel coronavirus continues.
The World Health Organization (WHO) officially started its investigation last year. Questions over its conclusions escalated into a heavily politicised debate with accusations of conspiracy and cover-ups based on hardly any strong evidence.
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Now, 21 researchers are trying to understand how a virus that originated in bats transferred into humans with the aim to ‘set the record straight’ by publishing their summary of the scientific evidence about the pandemic’s beginnings, reports the BBC.
These researchers have come up with a pre-print, meaning it has not been reviewed or edited by other experts yet. One of the key conclusions of the study is that the virus’s biological properties closely resemble those found in nature among bats, according to Prof Robertson, one of the 21 researchers.
The novel coronavirus disease outbreak looks very much like the emergence of the first SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) back in 2003, according to the professor.
In that case, the virus was isolated in palm civet — an animal traded widely in various parts of the world. Over the next few years, scientists found closely related viruses in bats and in 2017, scientists found an ancestor of SARS in a population of horseshoe bats.
“The only difference (with COVID) is that we’ve not found the intermediate species this time,” Prof Robertson said adding that the bat virus link and its strong association to markets selling live animals both exist.
Having studied coronavirus among bats for decades, the Wuhan Institute of Virology has been at the centre of scrutiny since the beginning of the outbreak.
The authors of this new report point out that none of those were, or could have been, manipulated into what became Sars-Cov-2. Sars-Cov-2 has not been found in any natural host.
While the scientific community is not unanimous on this, the WHO earlier had come up with similar conclusions.
Scientists agree that crowded, unhygienic live animal markets create ideal conditions for transmission of new diseases from animals.
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In the 18 months up to the beginning of the pandemic, a study showed that nearly 50,000 animals of 38 different species were sold at markets in Wuhan. Researchers say that a natural spill-over connected to animal trade is the most likely COVID origin scenario by far.