Zhong Nanshan in this file photo (XINHUA)
Initially reported to have originated in the now-dismantled Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, the epicenter in Hubei Province, central China, the source of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) now remains unknown as new evidence challenges the original assumption.
“The first case of novel coronavirus pneumonia was reported in China, but its source may not be in the country," renowned respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan said at a news briefing in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province in south China, on February 27.
The new paper, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, co-authored by researchers from three Chinese institutions and published on February 21 on the distribution platform ChinaXiv, suggests that “the SARS-CoV-2 source at the ... market was imported from elsewhere.” Health officials generally believe the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the disease known as Covid-19, originated in Wuhan.
Gene sequencing technology was used by scientists to analyze the haplotypes of 93 virus samples, which found that all the samples with a reported link to the market contained the same haplotype, called H1. But they later found that three more ancestral haplotypes, H3, H13 and H38, appeared in several cases with no reported ties to the market, including one in the southern city of Shenzhen and another in the U.S.
According to the World Health Organization, cases of COVID-19 of unknown origin have emerged, including a woman in the U.S. who had not traveled to regions affected by the outbreaks. Germany and France also reported two such cases.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (center) speaks at a daily briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, February 27 (XINHUA)
"It's what is happening in the rest of the world that is now our greatest concern," said the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "We are at a decisive point."
The paper follows on research published on January in the medical journal The Lancet challenging the hypothesis that the virus emerged at the Wuhan market. That paper analyzed 41 infected patients whose cases dated as far back as December 1 and concluded that 13 of them had no links to the marketplace.
A screenshot of the paper published on ChinaXiv. Phyloepidemiologic analyses indicate the SARS-CoV-2 source at the Huanan market should be imported from other places