Wildlife farms in southern China a likely source of Covid-19 pandemic, WHO member says

Wildlife farms in southern China are looking to be the most likely source of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a anggota of the World Health Organisation's investigative team.
Peter Daszak was among the WHO-led team of experts that travelled to China this year to try and answer questions around the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. He's also a disease ecologist and the president of EcoHealth Alliance.

It was during this trip that the experts found evidence that wildlife farms were supplying vendors at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan with animals, he told NPR in an interview on Tuesday (NZ time).

These farms, which included farms in China's southern province of Yunnan, were part of a unique project that government agencies had been promoting for about 20 years which helped increase the incomes of rural populations living in poverty, NPR reported.

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Life for residents in Wuhan has gradually returned to normal since the areas mass outbreak in December 2019.

They take exotic animals, like civets, porcupines, pangolins, racoon dogs and bamboo rats, and they breed them in captivity, Daszak said.

Scientists believe that bats were the most likely the carriers of the virus, and that they passed it on to another animal, which then passed it on to humans.

The farms have since been shut down in the wake of the pandemic. Daszak told NPR that the fact that the farms were shut down was a strong signal that the government thought the farms were a probable pathway for a coronavirus in bats in southern China to reach humans.

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A resident wear a mask while riding through Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in February 2021.

I do think that SARS-CoV-2 first got into people in South China. It's looking that way, Daszak told NPR.

China closes that pathway down for a reason, Daszak was reported saying, adding that the reason was that they believed this was the most likely pathway. And when the WHO report comes out ... we believe it's the most likely pathway too.

Ng Han Guan/AP
Peter Ben Embarek of a World Health Organisation expert team pictured speaking to journalists at the end of the mission to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan.

The WHO-led team of international experts visited Wuhan in January, kicking off a month-long investigation into the pandemic's origins.

Its much-anticipated report into the investigation is expected to be published this week. Its expected the report will include a number of areas of investigation and possible hypotheses, such as the cold chain hypothesis the idea that transmission could have occurred through frozen food.

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Members of a World Health Organisation (WHO) delegation pictured in Wuhan during their investigations.

Although there may not be a straight forward answer just yet on how the virus first began, Daszak told a webinar last week that: Im convinced we are going to find out fairly soon. Within the next few years, we are going to have real significant data on where this came from and how it emerged.

He said it should be possible for collective scientific data to accurately work out how animals with the coronavirus infected the first people in Wuhan back in December 2019, CNBC reported.

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A view of the Huanan seafood market pictured on February 9, 2021 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.

Australian microbiologist Dr Dominic Dwyer was also among the team of experts to go to Wuhan. In an analysis piece he wrote in February, he said their investigations concluded the virus was most likely of animal origin.

It probably crossed over to humans from bats, via an as-yet-unknown intermediary animal, at an unknown location, he wrote. Such zoonotic diseases have triggered pandemics before. But researchers were still working to confirm the exact chain of events that led to the current pandemic.


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