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The origins of the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that has killed millions worldwide are unknown. The origin of the virus that has decimated the planet is still a widely contested issue, with some scientists and politicians claiming that the deadly virus might have leaked from a lab in China. The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) is located near the outbreak's recognised epicentre, Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, central China, where the virus initially appeared in late 2019 and spread to the rest of the country. But a new report suggests that the virus may have originated naturally, refuting the theory that it originated in a lab. Here are the findings of the study.
The study released on open-access respiratory Zenodo claimed that evidence points to the natural origin of Covid, refuting the notion that Covid-19 escaped from a Chinese laboratory. Professor Peter Doherty, an Australian Nobel Laureate, is part of a team that comprises scientists from the United Kingdom, the United States, China, Canada, and New Zealand.
According to the study, coronaviruses have long been suspected to pose a pandemic danger. Covid-19, caused by SARS-CoV-2 is the ninth coronavirus that can infect humans and it also happens to be the seventh time it's been discovered in the previous 20 years. The scientists debunked the lab leak idea, claiming that there is no proof. While viruses have been known to leak from labs in the past, there is no evidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology possessed SARS-CoV-2 or any virus near enough to develop into it, according to the researchers.
As per the researchers, there are no recorded cases of human epidemics or pandemics originating from scientific activities, with the exception of the 1977 A/H1N1 influenza pandemic, which was likely caused by a large-scale vaccination challenge experiment. The scientists further stated, "No previous epidemic has been caused by the escape of a novel virus and there is no data to suggest that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) -- or any other laboratory -- were working on SARS-CoV-2, or any virus close enough to be the progenitor, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Viral genomic sequencing cell culture, which was routinely performed at the WIV, represents a negligible risk as viruses are inactivated during RNA extraction and no case of laboratory escape has been documented following the sequencing of viral samples."
According to epidemiological modelling, the number of potential instances needed to result in numerous hospitalised Covid-19 patients before December 2019 is irreconcilable with observed clinical, genomic, and epidemiological data.
Furthermore, genetic evidence suggests that Covid originated naturally, with the virus jumping from animals to people, according to the team of experts. As per the scientists, "All previous human coronaviruses have zoonotic origins, as have the vast majority of human viruses. The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 bears several signatures of these prior zoonotic events. It displays clear similarities to SARS-CoV that spilled over into humans in Foshan, Guangdong province, China in November 2002, and again in Guangzhou, in 2003."
Both incidents were related to living animal markets and featured species that were also sold live in Wuhan markets in 2019 and are known to be vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 infection, notably civets and raccoon dogs. The scientists also found that animal merchants who worked in 2003 but were not diagnosed with SARS had high levels of IgG to SARS-CoV-2 (13 per cent overall and less than 50 per cent for traders specialising in civets). Following serological studies, people of Yunnan province living near bat caves had approximately 3% positive rates for SARS-CoV related (SARS-CoV) viruses, indicating regular exposure in rural areas.
Professor Nik Petrovsky, a Covid-19 vaccine researcher at Flinders University in Adelaide, was reported as suggesting that the article failed to address concerns that Chinese researchers may be concealing key information. "They completely ignore the fact that WIV has taken all data on its viruses offline," he said. "This paper adds nothing to the origins debate. "The truth (is) that this is a completely open verdict where neither possibility can be proven or refuted."
(with inputs from IANS)
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