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“We may never know” but “will keep looking” for the origins of SARS-CoV-2

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In the context of ongoing research into the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, some scientists have admitted that, despite all their efforts, the world may never know exactly what triggered the pandemic, writes the Wall Street Journal.

Linfa Wang, 63, a professor involved with the emerging infectious diseases program at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, is a bat virus expert. Bats – popular as food and traditional medicine in some parts of China – represent one-fifth of all mammals. Disease experts say they make up a large group of potential disease spreaders.

Wang has now just joined the debate, but – along with other scientists – searching for the source of a different coronavirus – SARS – which causes severe acute respiratory syndrome and emerged in 2002 killing almost 800 people worldwide.

He finds that finding the source origin of SARS and other deadly viruses can serve as a “cautionary example” to those who have taken on the challenge.

Wang was a member of the 2003 WHO mission investigating SARS in China. He has been working with virus researchers in China for over a decade. The team is now trying to find out more about the cause of the disease.

According to the team, bats populating the same cave had infected each other with a succession of different viral strains. After these had mixed together they created a SARS-like virus that was passed onto humans.

They also issued a warning that other SARS-like coronaviruses capable of infecting people were circulating among bats in the region, rendering another SARS-like epidemic a real possibility.

However, viable as their research was at the time, the conclusions cited were the closest they could come to finding the origins of the disease.

“There is still no smoking gun. We have never found a bat that is the source of SARS that humans have,” Wang said.

Wang was cited as claiming that the ongoing search for SARS-CoV-2’s origins has been mired in politics.

Referring to China being criticized for delaying entry to a WHO-led team that travelled there in January 2020 to investigate the outbreak, he said:

“No one wants you to find a virus in their country.”

In January, international experts travelled to Wuhan where they examined a laboratory, hospitals, and markets for clues on the origins of SARS-CoV-2. WHO then compiled a report, saying that a leak of the new coronavirus from a laboratory in Wuhan, the first hotbed of COVID-19, was very unlikely. The report, released in March, said that the new virus was most likely transmitted to humans from bats through an intermediary host.

However, recently, the US and other countries called for a second phase of studies to explore the two main hypotheses: that the virus resulted from a lab leak or jumped to humans from infected animals.

The Biden administration ordered in May that US intelligence agencies report on COVID-19’s origins within 90 days. Despite the US government and politicians pushing their political agenda in accusing China of the so-called “lab-leak theory,” targeting a number of global scientists and the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), most scientists spoke out to dismiss the theory.

For example, Danielle Anderson, the only foreign scientist to have worked at the WIV, was quoted as saying in a Bloomberg report on June 28 that no one she knew there fell ill at the end of 2019.

Her statement followed a report in the Wall Street Journal claiming three researchers from the lab were hospitalised with flu-like symptoms as far back as in November 2019. Anderson lauded the lab as having the highest biosafety designation.

Looking back on the many inconclusive findings throughout his research, Wang is resolved not to give up.

We may never know… We will keep looking

he said.

Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images

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