China is still allowing “wet markets” to sell all sorts of wild animals — including bats, which top scientists say was the source of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
“As the pandemic that began in Wuhan forced countries worldwide to go into lockdown, a Mail on Sunday correspondent yesterday watched as thousands of customers flocked to a sprawling indoor market in Guilin, south-west China,” The Daily Mail reported.
“One source says that: ‘the markets have gone back to operating in exactly the same way as they did before coronavirus’ despite the outbreaks links to bats,” The Mail reported.
Here cages of different species were piled on top of each other. In another meat market in Dongguan, southern China, another correspondent photographed a medicine seller returning to business on Thursday with a billboard advertising bats – thought to be the cause of the initial Wuhan outbreak – along with scorpions and other creatures.
The shocking scenes came as China finally lifted a weekslong nationwide lockdown and encouraged people to go back to normal daily life to boost the flagging economy. Official statistics indicated there were virtually no new infections.
The market in Guilin was packed with shoppers yesterday, with fresh dog and cat meat on offer, a traditional ‘warming’ winter dish.
The markets are still open despite the Chinese People’s Congress voting Feb. 24 to close all wild animal markets.
A recent analysis of SARS-CoV-2 by a group of researchers compared the genome of the new coronavirus with the seven other coronaviruses known to infect humans and drew a clear conclusion: “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” they wrote in the journal Nature Medicine.
The researchers compared SARS, MERS and SARS-CoV-2, HKU1, NL63, OC43 and 229E and compared the receptor-binding domain (RBD) and how it binds with receptors called ACE-2 (to be highly technical, ACE-2 is a type I transmembrane metallocarboxypeptidase with homology to ACE).
“The RBD of SARS-CoV-2 is optimized for binding to human ACE2 with an efficient solution different from those previously predicted. Furthermore, if genetic manipulation had been performed, one of the several reverse-genetic systems available for betacoronaviruses would probably have been used. However, the genetic data irrefutably show that SARS-CoV-2 is not derived from any previously used virus backbone,” the researchers wrote.
Instead, they offer two scenarios that can explain the origin of SARS-CoV-2: “natural selection in an animal host before zoonotic transfer; and … natural selection in humans following zoonotic transfer.”
As many early cases of COVID-19 were linked to the Huanan market in Wuhan, it is possible that an animal source was present at this location. Given the similarity of SARS-CoV-2 to bat SARS-CoV-like coronaviruses2, it is likely that bats serve as reservoir hosts for its progenitor. Although RaTG13, sampled from a Rhinolophus affinis bat, is ~96% identical overall to SARS-CoV-2, its spike diverges in the RBD, which suggests that it may not bind efficiently to human ACE2. …
It is possible that a progenitor of SARS-CoV-2 jumped into humans, acquiring the genomic features described above through adaptation during undetected human-to-human transmission. Once acquired, these adaptations would enable the pandemic to take off and produce a sufficiently large cluster of cases to trigger the surveillance system that detected it.
“The overall molecular structure of this virus is distinct from the known coronaviruses and instead most closely resembles viruses found in bats and pangolins that had been little studied and never known to cause humans any harm,” the researchers write.