CovidThe discovery of a mistake in the timeline of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the focus of the origin of the highly-contagious coronavirus away from the lab-leak hypothesis and back to the probability that the first patient was directly infected by an animal from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China.
While no definitive evidence exists for either scenario, the lab-leak hypothesis gained traction due to the first known person to have fallen ill due to a SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) infection was a 41-year-old accountant that lived 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) away from the market that was assumed to be the epicenter of the initial outbreak, who was admitted to hospital on December 8, 2019; the first case linked to the Huanan Seafood Market wasn’t admitted to hospital until December 11—a full three days later—making it appear that patient zero had no apparent connection to the market.
However, during his investigation Dr. Michael Worobey, a leading expert in tracing the evolution of viruses at the University of Arizona, discovered that it was assumed that the accountant’s December 8 admission to hospital was because he was ill with COVID-19, when in fact he had gone to the hospital due to dental problems. Although he did eventually develop COVID-19 symptoms, this was not until December 16, making the December 11 illness from the market the first known case. Worobey verified the information using hospital records, a related scientific paper and media interviews with the accountant.
Worobey is unsure as to why this discrepancy wound up in the World Health Organization’s report, considering that the organization’s investigative team interviewed the accountant himself. “My guess is that they were told that this was the ‘December 8’ patient and just accepted it as read,” Worobey muses. “But it would be interesting to learn more about that interview, for sure.”
Worobey also analyzed the pattern of the early outbreaks in Wuhan, and found that one-third of the retrospectively identified cases from December 2019 were connected to the market, a pattern that would be expected if that location was ground zero for the pandemic. Because of the asymptomatic nature of the disease and its relatively long period between a patient’s initial infection and the onset of symptoms, cases would emerge that would appear to be unrelated to the actual source.
Conversely, if the initial human infection by SARS-CoV-2 had been elsewhere and the outbreak at the seafood market merely an incidental event, this pattern mightn’t have been as apparent. “In this city of 11 million people, half of the early cases are linked to a place that’s the size of a soccer field,” explains Dr. Worobey. “It becomes very difficult to explain that pattern if the outbreak didn’t start at the market.”
Worobey also points out that at the outset of the outbreak the first three hospitals involved identified 19 unexplained pneumonia cases, 10 of which were linked to the market. He also discovered that the early cases were linked to the western section of the market where live animals are kept, including raccoon dogs, a species known to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection but without apparent symptoms.
While this is not definitive proof that the coronavirus did not originate from a lab, the evidence for such a scenario was never strong to begin with, being largely circumstantial, along with the idea that the 4 percent genetic difference between SARS-CoV-2 and its closest known relative, found in horseshoe bats, is best explained by interference from gain-of-function experiments, although there is no actual evidence that either corroborates or refutes such a scenario.
Regardless, Professor David Robertson, the University of Glasgow’s Head of Viral Genomics and Bioinformatics, says that “this is compelling evidence that covid-19 has a live-animal-associated market origin much like the first SARS virus. Whether the initial transmissions were from animals to customers in the market, via vendors or both is hard to say.”
- Lab-Leak Evidence Eliminated Following New Research into the Origin of Covid-19 : Image Via Wikimedia Commons
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