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Sat Nov 14, 2020, 08:11 PM

The Coronavirus's origins are still a mystery. We need a full investigation.

From today’s Washington Post Editorial Board:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/the-coronaviruss-origins-are-still-a-mystery-we-need-a-full-investigation/2020/11/13/cbf4390e-2450-11eb-8672-c281c7a2c96e_story.html|

AFTER SO much death and illness, a mystery from the first days of the novel coronavirus has yet to be solved. We still don’t understand its origins or how it became a global killer. The answers lie in China, and quite possibly beyond. The world needs a credible, impartial investigation to better prepare for future pandemics.

Most likely, the virus was a zoonotic spillover, a leap from animals to humans, which have become more common as people push into new areas where they have closer contact with wildlife. The facts are still extremely sparse. The closest-known relatives to this coronavirus were collected from bats in China’s Yunnan province in 2012 to 2013 and in 2019. The first one matches the virus genetic sequence by 96.2 percent, and the second one by 93.3 percent. But with a genome size of about 30,000 nucleotides, the closest bat virus is still nearly 1,200 nucleotides distant.

Moreover, the first outbreak was reported more than 1,000 miles away from Yunnan in Wuhan, Hubei province. How did it cross time and distance? Was there another animal intermediary? David A. Relman, a Stanford University microbiologist, writes in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “the ‘origin story’ is missing many key details,” including a recent detailed evolutionary history of the virus, identity of its most recent ancestors and “surprisingly, the place, time, and mechanism of transmission of the first human infection.”

At first, it was suspected that Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was the location of the infection. The market was large, with 653 stalls, selling seafood but also fruits and vegetables, meat and live animals. Trade was carried out in chipmunks, foxes, raccoons, wild boar, giant salamanders, hedgehogs, sika deer, snakes, frogs, quail, bamboo rats, rabbits, crocodiles and badgers. The market was closed right after the outbreak began, and in the rush to disinfect, no samples were taken that might prove a virus connection. However, some environmental samples from the market contained virus matching those in patients who became ill. A study of 41 confirmed human cases from Wuhan showed that nearly 70 percent had a link to the market, but 30 percent did not, including three of the first four cases. The data are insufficient to settle whether the market was the contamination source, or whether it served to amplify the virus for human-to-human transmission, or both, or neither.

(cont.)

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