Despite China’s 'batwoman' warning of another coronavirus outbreak, Chinese virologists refute the claim
Published: Sep 25, 2023 09:05 PM
Shi Zhengli. Photo:IC

Shi Zhengli. Photo:IC

After virologist Shi Zhengli warned another coronavirus outbreak "highly likely", other Chinese virologists shot down the possibility of outbreak the world experienced in the past three years would reappear, claiming that the immunity most population gained during this period could help fend off possible outbreaks. However, those virologists also warned sporadic outbreaks of coronavirus in the future. 

Shi Zhengli, a virologist from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), also dubbed as China's "batwoman" and her team from WIV evaluated the human spillover risk of 40 coronavirus species and rated half of them as "highly risky". Of these, six are already known to have caused diseases that infected humans, while there is evidence that further three caused disease or infected other animal species.  

"It is almost certain that three will be further disease emergence and it is highly likely that a [coronavirus] disease will emerge again,' the study warned.

This paper was published in the English-language journal Emerging Microbes & Infections in July. It has recently gained attention on Chinese social media lately. 

The risk of coronavirus is only one factor that causes large-scale infection, immune system is another factor, a virologist from the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, who requested anonymity, told the Global Times on Monday. 

He said that in the past three years, human being and animals had already built strong immunity against coronavirus, which allow them to fend off possible infection. 

Another virologist from a Beijing-based university, who was once in WHO-China Joint Mission on SARS-CoV-2 origin study, who also requested anonymity, told the Global Times that Shi's research which labeled 40 coronavirus species "highly risky" is based on the virus's structure, and is a relative evaluation only within those 40 species. 

However, the two anonymous virologists also warned that although a large-scale outbreak is unlikely in near future, sporadic ones are possible, especially during winter. 

Since late 2019, the novel coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, has rapidly spread across the globe. Since November 2021, the Omicron strain has been the predominant variant of concern in most countries, noted an article published online by the Emerging Microbes & Infections journal on September 5.  

The Omicron variant has continued to mutate over the past few years and subvariants such as BA.1,  BA.2,  BA.4, BA.5 and BF.7, as well as the latest XBB.1.5, have swept the world,  causing lots of deaths and huge economic losses, according to the article. 

In light of the double challenges of COVID-19 and influenza this fall and winter, Chinese doctors and medical experts have called for the public to get vaccine boosters by the end of October. The suggestion came following the latest study by a research team led by Chinese infectious disease expert Zhang Wenhong that revealed weakening neutralization against Omicron subvariants as the virus continues to evolve.