Source of Beijing cases renews speculation over COVID-19 origin

By Liu Caiyu and Zhang Hui Source:Global Times Published: 2020/6/15 20:03:40

The Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, the epidemic's epicenter, is believed to be the the origin of the novel coronavirus. Photo: cnsphotos

Evidence shows that the source of infection in Beijing's new coronavirus outbreak points at Europe, seemingly casting new doubt over the origins of the COVID-19 epidemic, with some netizens and experts speculating the outbreak that occurred in Wuhan's Huanan seafood market may also relate to imported food or animals.

The Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province, where many of the early COVID-19 cases in China were identified, has been in the spotlight as the world wonders whether it was the origin of the novel coronavirus. 

But recent clustered infections in Beijing seemingly provide new clues for some netizens and experts over the COVID-19 origin.

Preliminary investigations showed that the type of novel coronavirus found on samples collected from Xinfadi Market, a locus of the new outbreak in Beijing, was related to European cases rather than Chinese domestic cases, according to genome sequencing, according to Yang Peng, a researcher from Beijing Center for Diseases Prevention and Control. 

Experts said this finding indicated that it is very likely the clustered infections in Beijing were caused by imported seafood that was contaminated by the coronavirus in Europe before being delivered by cold-chain transportation to China. 

Thus, suspicions are mounting that imported seafood or meat provided the origins of the novel coronavirus in China's epidemic. Some experts reached by the Global Times on Monday also said that the possibility cannot be ruled out. 

Reacting to the findings of genome sequencing in Beijing, Wu Hao, head of the Fangzhuang community health service center, told the Global Times that the virus could have come to China via imported seafood, which might be the source of the virus in the Huanan seafood market. 

Previous comments made by Gao Fu, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also implied there are various possibilities for the virus' origin. 

"At first, we assumed the seafood market might have the virus, but now the market is more like a victim. The novel coronavirus existed long before," Gao said in May. 

Part of the investigation scene in the Huanan market has been damaged by disinfection, thus adding to the difficulty in finding the source of the disease.  

This time in Beijing, local authorities collected samples from the environment and the actual seafood before disinfecting the Xinfadi Market.

"Seafood market again! Please have an investigation over the source of imported seafood that was sold in the Huanan seafood market, and make a comparison with the imported seafood in Beijing's Xinfadi Market," a netizen on Sina Weibo posted, asking if the seafood from the two markets came from the same overseas source.

However, some vendors in the Huanan seafood market reached by the Global Times on Monday said most seafood sold in the market came from nearby regions such as Qianjiang, a city near Wuhan. Some others declined to comment when asked if there had been imported seafood sold in the market. 

Yang Zhanqiu, a deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Monday that it was unlikely the outbreak in the Huanan market had been related to imported seafood. He said that the virus originated among wild animals as previous research indicates. 

Previous researches have revealed that the novel coronavirus probably came from bats. 

According to recent research by a team led by virologist Shi Zhengli from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the virus' full genome was 96 percent similar to a viral sequence reported from horseshoe bats, and closely related sequences were also identified in Malayan pangolins. 

The possibility cannot be ruled out that the novel coronavirus may have come from outside China, such as from Southeast Asian countries. Horseshoe bats also live in these countries. 
Newspaper headline: Source of Beijing cases renews guess over virus origin


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