The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic — with 128 million and growing cases, at least 2.7 million deaths worldwide and massive economic losses going into trillions of dollars — is becoming like a bottomless pit that sees no end near. While a slew of vaccines have rolled out worldwide, the one question that has been plaguing the science community is ‘what the origin of the virus is’.
According to a MIT Technology Review report, an international research team appointed by China and the World Health Organization (WHO) is now searching for the source of Covid-19. The researchers so far know that a coronavirus very similar to some found in horseshoe bats that made the jump into humans. They appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December of 2019, and from there kindled the biggest health calamity of this century so far.
The research team haven’t yet zeroed in on the critical detail, whether a virus with its origin in the horseshoe bats — a creature living hundreds of miles away in remote caves, make its way into humans. However, in their yet to be revealed report, it is expected to summarise everything that’s known about the early days of the outbreak, including the Chinese effort to locate its source, and it’s likely spread. Among the ideal hypothesis would be that how the SARS-CoV-2 reached humans from bats through ‘an intermediate host species’ such as other wild animals sold as food in the markets of Wuhan.
While that may sound like a reasonable theory, however, other bat coronaviruses have jumped to humans the same way. A similar coronavirus caused global panic in 2003 when it spread out of southern China and sickened over 7,500 people. With SARS, researchers tested caged market animals and quickly found a nearly identical virus in Himalayan palm civet cats and raccoon dogs, which are also eaten locally. However, this time around, the ‘intermediate-host’ has one big problem as since its spread for more than a year, no animal has been identified as the cause for the pandemic virus.
According to Liang Wannian, lead researcher of the Chinese contingent,no one has found a ‘direct progenitor’ of the virus, and therefore the pandemic ‘remains an unsolved mystery.’ That’s despite efforts by China to test tens of thousands of animals, including pigs, goats and poultry among others. However, they fear that the virus may well be establishing itself in new species, like wild rabbits or even house pets.
We have to wait and watch for the WHO-China team’s eventual report that is expected to shed more light and further research that needs to be carried out.
Keywords: Coronavirus, Covid-19, Pandemic, China, World Health Organisation, WHO, MIT, Report