China or Italy? Sticks or pangolins?
More than 11 months since the first batch of coronavirus cases were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan, there are still questions about the exact origin of the virus and how it was transmitted from animals to humans.
Experts believe the zoonotic disease COVID-19 came from a humid Chinese market that sold wildlife. However, new research has emerged showing that the virus was circulating in Italy in September, adding another layer to the mystery that has so far shunned scientists.
Wuhan scientists interviewed on the origin of the coronavirus, says WHO
A published study earlier this month in the scientific journal Tumor Journal found coronavirus antibodies in 11.6 percent of 959 asymptomatic people enrolled in a possible lung cancer screening trial between September 2019 and March 2020. Italy’s first official COVID-19 case was discovered in Lombardy on February 21 this year.
Our results show that SARS-CoV-2 circulated in Italy earlier than the first official COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in Lombardy, even long before the first official reports from the Chinese authorities, shedding new light on the onset and spread of COVID- 19 pandemics, Italian researchers said in their November 11 report, which is expected to be reviewed by colleagues.
The World Health Organization (WHO) told Global News that it has reviewed the paper and will address the authors to discuss and adjust for further analysis.
Dr. Sasha Bernatsky, a senior scientist at the McGill University Health Center Research Institute, called the study very interesting and provocative, but said it was not conclusive.
“Unfortunately, we still do not understand the antibody response to COVID and how stable it is,” she told Global News.
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In September, a WHO-led international investigation team was formed to study the source of the new virus, the possible role of an intermediate animal host, and how the virus was transmitted to humans.
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Researchers believe that SARS-CoV-2, which is the seventh human coronavirus, originally came from bats as reservoir hosts. Some studies also suspect an intermediate link with pangolins, a mammal found in Asia and Africa.
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Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist and professor of global health at the University of Toronto, said the entire SARS-CoV-2 virus chain of events that causes COVID-19, which appears in a Wuhan market, has not been proven, but the Italian findings did not change the fact that the virus was of animal origin.
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What caused this were apparently wildlife markets and none of them have changed, he told Global News.
What I think is that there will be years back and forth before we really have a smoking gun exactly what caused it and what the chain of events was.
The politicization of the pandemic
Since the pandemic began, China has faced much criticism from Western leaders, particularly U.S. President Donald Trump, accusing Beijing of lack of transparency and failing to report its outbreak in a timely manner.
In May, an innovative investigation by Global News’ Sam Cooper found that before China informed the world of the possible death of the coronavirus at the end of January, it told embassies and consulates around the world to secretly purchase all personal protective equipment that could.
Meanwhile, a Harvard Medical School Study analyzed hospital traffic data and search engines to suggest the virus may have been circulating since August. China has dismissed the findings as ridiculous.
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Levon Abrahamyan, a virologist at the University of Montreal, said that as with previous experiences with other outbreaks, a new virus needs time to fully adapt to new hosts in this case, people who can provide a explanation for the delay in its discovery.
The political element was very, very strong, especially in terms of origins, because China was accused of not giving the true story, not reacting immediately, not informing the World Health Organization in a timely manner about the explosion, he told Global News.
For a virus to adapt to humans and become (a) a human-to-human transmission virus, which can take several months, which can take several weeks, it all depends on the viral genetic background of the surrounding population.
More than 17 years after severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), another respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, was discovered in China in 2003, its exact origin remains a myth.
The same could be the case with the COVID-19 pandemic.
How an infectious disease crosses the animal-human barrier is an enigma that can take years to solve, says the WHO.
Bowman admitted, adding: It will take time before we really get to the end of it.
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© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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