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The Hunt for Coronavirus Origins

The Hunt for Coronavirus Origins

BY Lee Craig
Health & Safety

Ten months after health officials cited Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market as ground zero for the COVID-19 pandemic the World Health Organization embarks on the final stages of a search for the coronavirus’s origins.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a group of international experts had held a first virtual meeting with their Chinese counterparts, before pledging the WHO’s full support for the process.

Planning began in February, when a two-person WHO team completed a three-week preliminary assignment.  The project will include epidemiological studies of COVID-19 cases, biologic and genetic analyses, and animal health research.  Meanwhile months of genetic research has already concluded that the pandemic started with what’s known as a zoonotic spillover, an event where a germ passes

An epidemiologist at UC Davis says among the key questions would be: "What behaviours and occupations did people have that were initially exposed or infected? Were people more likely to have interacted with certain animal species, or travelled to specific locations?” 

China and other countries have contributed genetic sequences of the coronavirus collected from humans to a database for tracking the germ’s evolution. By comparing entries, multiple research groups have reached the conclusion that the novel coronavirus “has probably come from bats, perhaps through an intermediary animal host.” The multitude of SARS-esque viruses that horseshoe bats retain make them a prime suspect in the current pandemic’s origins.

Some experts fear the WHO’s new project won’t find anything useful because it has been nearly a year since COVID-19 emerged. But new details from the WHO mission plan say nearly 1,200 specimens were collected from the Wuhan market, which had 653 sellers peddling items ranging from seafood and chipmunks to giant salamanders and sika deer. It remains unclear whether the market was a contamination source, acted as an amplifier for human-to-human transmission, or a combination of those factors

Though the search might begin in Wuhan, it will very likely expand throughout Hubei Province, with the view that it would not be surprising to find that it has been in humans before the Wuhan outbreak was detected in 2019.

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