The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China, was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to papers published by the journal Science. The papers’ authors said that the pandemic began in separate viral spillovers — at least two but perhaps as many as two dozen — from live animals sold and butchered at the market in late 2019, The Washington Post reported. The papers underwent five months of peer review and revisions by the authors.
“While there is insufficient evidence to define upstream events, and exact circumstances remain obscure, our analyses indicate that the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 occurred via the live wildlife trade in China, and show that the Huanan market was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the papers’ authors wrote, Science reported Tuesday.
A natural origin of the pandemic has long been a favored theory among scientists because most pandemics, including the SARS coronavirus outbreak of 2002-2003, have begun that way, the Post reported.
Kristian Andersen, an immunologist at Scripps Research, and his colleagues believe multiple lines of evidence make a market origin not only a likely scenario but the only one that fits the data.
“Everything upstream of this — Which animals? Where did they come from? How it’s all connected? — is completely unknown at this stage,” Andersen said in a media briefing Tuesday, the Post reported.
“Have we disproven the lab leak theory? No, we have not. Will we ever be able to? No. But there are ‘possible’ scenarios and there are ‘plausible’ scenarios.”
Examined data showed that many of the earliest COVID patients had direct links to the market or lived nearby.
Early community spread showed infections radiating outward from the vicinity of the Wuhan market.
“It’s an insane bull’s eye,” said Michael Worobey, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Arizona.
After the Wuhan market initially was identified as the site of a cluster of coronavirus cases, Chinese investigators took environmental samples searching for traces of the virus. A disproportionate number of positive traces came from the section of the market where live animals had been sold, the new study reports.
“The virus started spreading in people who worked at the market, but then started spreading in the surrounding local community as vendors went to local shops, and infected people who worked in those shops,” Worobey said.
Science in May 2021 published a letter from 18 scientists calling for an investigation into the virus’ origin that would include exploration of the lab leak theory.
President Joe Biden then asked his intelligence agencies to investigate all possible origins of the pandemic. The review found that the virus was not an engineered bioweapon but otherwise failed to reach a conclusion about where it came from, the Post reported.
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