By the time three of the researchers examining how SARS-CoV-2 originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan gathered on March 10 for a virtual press conference, over a year had passed since the World Health Organization sought permission in Beijing to admit them.
Mystery of the Virus
At this time, as more than 2.6 million people died of COVID-19 and millions suffered the long-term effects of the disease, the mystery of the origin of the coronavirus emerged.
There is widespread agreement that the coronavirus is part of a lineage of viruses found in horseshoes bats in South China. The mystery focuses on how the virus led to an outbreak in Wuhan, without leaving any trace of its journey.
That's the important question Peter Daszak, an expert in disease zoology and member of the WHO team, attempted to bring up at the press conference.
Daszak, who heads the EcoHealth Alliance, a non-profit that has funded research into coronavirus bats in China and elsewhere, is a vocal critic of the notion that the origin of the pandemic involves some sort of accident in the laboratory; instead, he prefers natural zoonosis as an explanation, holding that the pandemic jumped from animals to humans without human intervention.
How it Might Have Happened
Predicting how this might have occurred, Daszak suggested fixed food importation and cited animal remains as a potential "pipeline from Wuhan to the regions in South China, where the closest family virus to [coronavirus] are discovered in bats.
This is an entry point for Daszak because it highlights a weakness in the theory of random-zoonosis and points to a more logical-and often not noticed - culprit.
As a general rule, Daszak and many other scientists have noted that a new pandemic is more likely to be caused by a zoonosis than by a virus that escaped a lab. However, what happens in general does not necessarily explain what happened in this particular instance.
The important question is, what is the likely way that this particular virus could have caused this particular outbreak in Wuhan? To explain this, random zoonosis does not appear to equal the facts. It has a vector problem.
For the virus to jump from one horseshoe bat in South China to another animal, and then followed a transmission chain through an unknown series of hosts, possibly as part of the wildlife trade, until reaching Wuhan, where it exploded on the population and was finally noticed, requires a series of low probability.
Scientists Never Saw This Coming
From the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Shi Zhengli, a scientist at the center of the controversy, reported to Scientific American that he never expected this kind of thing to occur in Wuhan.
She would have expected this to happen in South China, where these viruses are naturally found. In addition, South China has a stronger tradition of wildlife consumption than other parts of China.
A research discovered that 83 percent of locals of Guangzhou's South China megacity have fed on wildlife in the previous year, while only 5 percent of residents in Beijing had fed on wildlife. Wildlife trade flows in that direction, and big wet markets are sited there.
A virus in South China is more likely to provoke an outbreak in South China, which exactly occured with the first SARS in 2002.
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