Covid-19 may not have emerged in Wuhan, top virus hunter says

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One of the world’s foremost emerging disease experts, who helped uncover the origins of the deadly Sars outbreak in 2003, believes Covid-19 could have emerged from Southeast Asia or southern China , not from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the respiratory disease was first discovered last year.With more than 1.2 million dead and little sign of the global pandemic slowing, dedicated virus hunters like renowned Singapore biologist Professor Wang Linfa are urgently searching labs across Asia to find the source of the Covid-19 and ensure it never happens. such havoc again.

“It is almost impossible to imagine this virus coming from Wuhan,” he said of the central Chinese metropolis of 11 million people where the world first witnessed the horrors of thousands of people. people struck by a highly contagious and mysterious virus that sometimes caused fatal respiratory problems.

“My theory is southern China or Southeast Asia,” he told the Telegraph in an interview.

“Bat density and bat diversity of species that can carry Sars-related viruses are much increased in neighboring countries and in Guangxi province,” said the biologist known as “Batman. For his expertise on the link between bats and zoonotic viruses.

It is widely believed that the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 respiratory disease was first harbored by bats – which have uniquely evolved to harbor dangerous pathogens – before jumping to humans , perhaps via another animal species.

To focus on the source, he is pioneering a new ‘frontline weapon’ to screen animals and humans for previous infection, working from his base in Singapore, where he leads the Emerging Infectious Diseases program at the Duke-NUS Medical School.

Professor Wang’s procedure, published in Nature Biotechnology in July, uses human and viral proteins to test blood samples for antibodies. The surrogate virus neutralization test bypasses the need to use the dangerous virus living in a biosafety lab, making it more widely accessible.

He hopes he will identify “intermediate hosts” that could have helped the virus make the deadly leap from bats to humans. And his research, funded by the World Health Organization, will take a peek.

“My test is going to be used as a first-line screening tool, so we will already be testing samples from Southeast Asia, South America, the Middle East, Africa and the United States. United ”, he declared.

The true origins of the deadly virus may lie in the wildlife trade, much of which is illegal, he suggested. “The Chinese import many animals from a very wide geographic range.”

Professor Wang’s hypothesis may not be welcomed by those who wish to blame the virus solely at the feet of China, pointing to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan where the first cases emerged, or the conspiracy theories that the deadly pathogen was disclosed by the Wuhan Institute. of virology.

But the theory is rooted in his deep scientific knowledge of the subject. His previous work helped trace the 2003 Sars outbreak on horseshoe bats in a cave in Yunnan, southwest China.

The politicization of the current research into the origins of Sars-CoV-2 is a source of frustration for Professor Wang and other scientific experts, and hinders their vital work.

“If the world leaders have the will, put in the money… and don’t talk politics, I think we can solve it. Unfortunately, there are currently many preconditions, ”he said. “Seventeen years ago the political framework was very different.”

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