Study claims coronavirus was taken into China's Wuhan market by already infected person – read details
The new scientific study challenges claims by Chinese authorities that the novel coronavirus came from animals in Wuhan market.
As China is under scanner for its “cover-up” of the novel coronavirus which originated in the country in late last year, a new scientific study has claimed that the virus was taken into a wild animal market in the central city of Wuhan by someone who was already infected with the highly-contagious disease.
The new finding has posed a challenge to China’s earlier claim that COVID-19 – the deadly disease caused by the novel coronavirus – came from animals in Wuhan market. It will fuel suspicions that Beijing is desperately trying to cover-up the true source of the outbreak which has killed at least 310,000 people across the globe and led to a severe global economic crisis.
An analysis of the coronavirus by specialist biologists suggests that all available data shows it was taken into the Wuhan market by someone already carrying the disease, the Mail on Sunday reported.
The study was carried out by Alina Chan and Ben Deverman from the Broad Institute, a research unit affiliated to Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as Shing Zhan, from the University of British Columbia.
They also say they were “surprised” to find the virus was “already pre-adapted to human transmission” -- contrasting it to another coronavirus that evolved rapidly as it spread around the world in a previous epidemic.
The scientists are “clear” in their conclusions that the virus originated outside the Wuhan market.
“The publicly available genetic data does not point to cross-species transmission of the virus at the market,” said Chan, a molecular biologist, and Zhan, an evolutionary biologist.
Their paper insists all routes for “zoonotic” (animal to human) transmission – in this case from bats – must be examined. It says: “The possibility that a non-genetically engineered precursor could have adapted to humans while being studied in a laboratory should be considered.”
This comes as US President Donald Trump has already said that the virus originated in from a virology lab in Wuhan before it spread across the world.
The US has also launched an investigation into whether the deadly virus “escaped” from China’s premier Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
But the official Chinese narrative is that “the virus almost certainly came from an animal in Huanan market in Wuhan”.
Chinese health authorities said it was “only a matter of time” before they identified the crossover species behind transmission from bats to humans.
The World Health Organisation quickly backed China’s claims, saying: “The evidence is highly suggestive that the outbreak is associated with exposures in one seafood market in Wuhan.”
The revelations will mount global pressure on China to come clean about the source of the outbreak. Chinese health officials closed the market the day after notifying WHO and sent in clean-up teams to disinfect the market. Samples were taken from animals, but theses have never been shared with foreign scientists.
This has led some observers to suggest that the clean-up teams were sent in to destroy incriminating evidence.
Guan Yi, a University of Hong Kong expert, said: “The crime scene was completely gone. How can we solve a case without evidence?”
The new study says genetic examination of four samples containing the virus from the seafood market to those taken from the Wuhan patient is “99.9 per cent” identical.
This suggests it came from infected visitors or vendors, indicating “Sars-CoV-2 had been imported into the market by humans”. The authors confirmed they had found no evidence “of cross-species transmission” at the market.
They cite a paper by Chinese scientists, published this month in Zoological Research journal, that has also inferred the virus was brought in to the market after examining samples from infected patients.
The study has been posted on BioRxiv -- a website that researchers use to share their work before it is peer-reviewed.
Earlier this month, it emerged that a Frenchman was a confirmed case four days before China notified the World Health Organisation about a new “pneumonia-like” disease.
China has consistently denied an accidental leak from one of two Wuhan labs working with bats. Last week, however, its officials ordered security at all labs working with viruses to be tightened.