New studies show Covid-19 started in Wuhan market, not lab

PHOTO: Studies show Wuhan market, not labs, are the origin of Covid-19. (via Nature)

Two new studies suggest rumours of a lab leak or unnatural starts to Covid-19 are likely wrong, as a Wuhan animal market appears to be the epicentre of the pandemic’s beginnings. The studies were published Tuesday in Science, an academic journal, and point to a natural transition from animals to humans as the start of Covid, not any sort of laboratory accident.

One study looked at December 2019, and the geographic spread of the first Covid cases, finding that they centred very closely around the Huanan Market. The second study approached the pandemic from the biological side, finding that tracing the evolution of the virus from genomic data in the earliest cases suggests that widespread human infections before November of 2019 are very unlikely.

The two studies had been shared in their early stages, but have now gone through scientific peer-review to be published in a reputable academic journal. Co-author Kristian Anderson of The Scripps Research Institute said that, while no research can definitively disprove lab leak theories, it shows that a natural animal to human spread of coronavirus is far more plausible.

“I think what’s really important here is that there are possible scenarios and they’re plausible scenarios and it’s really important to understand that possible does not mean equally likely.”

Notably, a co-author of both of the papers, the University of Arizona’s Michael Worobey, had embarked on his study by encouraging the scientific community to consider more seriously the possibility of a lab leak being the coronavirus source. But upon completion of the studies, data pointed to the viral outbreak starting from the Wuhan market and the trading of wildlife, without any sinister or malicious origin.

While the animal market in Wuhan has long been studied, some felt that it merely amplified the already existing lab-sourced outbreak, but pinpointing studies at a neighbourhood level suggest that it most likely jumped from animals to humans. Hog Badgers, raccoon dogs, and red foxes that are known to be able to carry Covid were all available for sale in the market, where 155 of the first 174 infections were located.

The first study found that the early cases centred around the market, and then people were exposed by living near the market. Researchers were able to derandomise the early spread from there by deep-diving into the Chinese Weibo social media app and people’s check-ins online.

The second study found an interesting scenario where two early strains of Covid were found around the market: Type A, closer to the strains found in bats, and Type B, actually the strain that spread more in the market. It appears that the two separate strains began spreading at the same time, and not one emerging from the other according to the timeline constructed by the rate of genetic mutation.

This suggests that in November and December of 2019, Covid jumped on multiple occasions from animals to humans in that Wuhan Market, forming the true origin story of the virus that evolved into the massive global pandemic we all know today.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Neill Fronde

Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.