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Origin and spread of novel-coronavirus

Rosemala Agarwala
Published on:
May 2, 2020

Where did the virus that has the whole world on its knees originally come from? And how did it spread so fast?

There is scepticism about several aspects of the COVID-19 origin story that scientists are trying hard to unravel. Two critical but unanswered questions are – Where exactly did the coronavirus come from and what makes coronavirus so contagious?

It is important to answer these questions because understanding how a pandemic starts is key to stopping the next one. The virus, which has infected 1.6 million people and killed 106,000 in 214 countries, is believed to have originated late last year among wild animals on sale in a seafood market in Wuhan, China. The wet markets, some of which sell live exotic animals alongside fresh vegetables, seafood, and meat, are common across China. It was widely believed that humans caught the virus from animals such as bats and snakes that were sold in poor conditions in the Wuhan wet market. This theory was widely accepted at first because 66 per cent of the first cluster of 41 cases in December 2019 had exposure to this market. A study by a team of Chinese scientists indicates coronavirus did not actually originate at a seafood market in the central China city of Wuhan as widely reported. Analysis indicates that the coronavirus was actually introduced from outside the market. The crowded market then heightened the transmission of novel coronavirus to the whole city in early December 2019.

Another important theory trying to explain the origin of novel coronavirus is that virus leaked from the lab in Wuhan. The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been studying bat coronavirus and it was possible for an accidental leak to have happened and the virus could have spread to the nearby wet market where it was passed on quickly This theory has also not gathered substantial evidence and had later been disapproved by researchers.

Virus researchers say there is virtually no chance that the new coronavirus was released as a result of a laboratory accident in China or anywhere else.

The assessment, made by more than half-a-dozen scientists familiar with lab accidents and how research on coronaviruses is conducted, casts doubt on recent claims that a mistake may have unleashed the coronavirus on the world.

Whether the virus first infected humans at the infamous Wuhan “wet market” or somehow took a more complicated route via a so far unidentified Chinese laboratory, the ultimate source of the novel coronavirus is still the same: wild populations of bats. All available evidence to date suggests that the novel coronavirus has a natural animal origin, and was not a manipulated or constructed virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
"Many researchers have been able to look at the genomic features of SARS-CoV-2 and have found that evidence does not support that SARS-CoV-2 is a laboratory construct," said the global health watchdog.
The organisation also stressed that if it were a constructed virus, its genomic sequence would show a mix of known elements, but "this is not the case", reports Xinhua news agency.

Pangolins may be the missing link for the transmission of the new coronavirus from bats to humans.

SARS-CoV-2 is zoonotic, which means that the virus originated in animals and jumped to humans. A critical challenge is to determine which animal transmitted the virus to humans. They may have served as the hosts that transmitted the coronavirus to people and caused the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The pangolin, also known as a scaly anteater, is the only known mammal with scales and is found in Asia and's unlikely that bats directly gave the virus to humans based on what's known about the transmission of earlier zoonotic coronaviruses.

Instead, scientists suspected that the bat coronavirus infected another animal, an "intermediate host," which subsequently transmitted the virus to humans.

There has been considerable discussion and research on the origin of the coronavirus yet there is immense uncertainty on how novel coronavirus really originated. The answer to this question must be found fast in order to control the ongoing pandemic and prevent future ones.


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