Friday, May 29, 2020

COVID-19: China says Wuhan wet market was site of 'superspreader' event, not Ground Zero

COVID-19: China says Wuhan wet market was site of 'superspreader' event, not Ground Zero

Chinese health authorities say animals for sale at the market were tested and found not to contain the novel coronavirus

Residents wearing face masks purchase seafood at a wet market on January 28, 2020 in Macau, China.Anthony Kwan/Getty Images
It has long been the focus of swirling coronavirus speculation, but now Chinese health authorities have said that the wet market in Wuhan, central China, was not the source of the first COVID-19 outbreak.
Animals from the market were tested by officials at the Chinese Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Daily Mail reports, and found not to contain the novel coronavirus. Instead, officials say that rather than the outbreak’s Ground Zero, the Wuhan market was likely the source of a “superspreader” event during the virus’ early stages.
China had earlier offered that the market was the virus’ presumed epicentre; it was where 41 of the initial cases were discovered before it was shuttered on Jan. 1. Competing with the wet market theory, U.S. officials have suggested, without providing evidence, that the virus first escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a laboratory not far from the market itself at which coronaviruses are studied.
The novel coronavirus, experts believe, made a leap from a bat, to an intermediary host, and then onto humans. The deadly SARS outbreak of 2002 occurred at a similar market in China. But now, the Wall Street Journal reports that Gao Fu, director of China’s CDC, has told state media: “It now turns out that the (Wuhan) market is one of the victims.” According to the Daily Mail, China has said its new study showed 13 of the first virus cases were not linked to the Wuhan market. The virus, China says, was doing the rounds in Wuhan before the market cases emerged.
Chinese authorities shut down the market as part of efforts to halt the spread of the virus and ordered a temporary ban on trade and consumption of wildlife. A common sight across Asia, wet markets traditionally sell fresh produce and live animals, such as fish, in the open air.
This photo taken on April 15, 2020 shows a woman wearing a face mask as she offers prawns for sale at the Wuhan Baishazhou Market in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images
Colin Carlson, a professor at Georgetown University and expert in zootonic viruses told Live Science that the theory of the wet market as the starting point seems no longer viable, backing up China’s new claim.
“I haven’t seen anything that makes me feel, as a researcher who studies zootonic disease, that this market is a likely option,” he said. “None of the animals tested (from the market) positive. So since January, this has not actually been particularly conclusive. But this has developed into a narrative.”
The World Health Organization said Friday that market played a role in the outbreak of the virus last year, as the source or possibly as an “amplifying setting.” The WHO has called for more research.
“The market played a role in the event, that’s clear. But what role we don’t know, whether it was the source or amplifying setting or just a coincidence that some cases were detected in and around that market,” said Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO expert on food safety and zoonotic viruses.
It was not clear whether live animals or infected vendors or shoppers may have brought the virus into the market, he told a Geneva news briefing Friday.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said there is “a significant amount of evidence” the virus came from the Wuhan laboratory, although he has also said there wasn’t certainty. No public evidence has linked the outbreak to the lab and scientists have said the coronavirus appears to have developed in nature. A German intelligence report cast doubts on Pompeo’s allegations, Der Spiegel reported.
This aerial view shows the P4 laboratory on the campus of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on May 27, 2020. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images
Ben Embarek noted that it took researchers a year to identify camels as the source of the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) virus, a coronavirus that emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and spread in the Middle East, adding: “It’s not too late.”
“What is important, what would be of great help, is to get hold of the virus before it adapted to humans, before the version we have now. Because then we would better understand how it adapted to humans, how it evolved,” he said.
“In terms of investigations, China has most probably, most likely, all the expertise needed to do these investigations. They have lot of very qualified researchers to that,” he said.
Many similar markets worldwide that sell live animals must be better regulated and hygiene conditions improved, and some should be closed down, Ben Embarek said. “But the vast majority can be fixed, can be better organized.”
It is often a question of controlling waste management, the movement of people and goods, and of separating live animals from animal products and from fresh goods, he said.

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