COVID-19 came from bats and animals, wasn't made in lab: Chinese scientists

Scientists have been sceptical about claims virus was a result of bioweapon research

Xi lab AP Chinese President Xi Jinping (centre), wearing a protective face mask, talks to a medical staff member during his visit to the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Beijing | AP

As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak continues across the world, the one thing that has travelled as fast as the disease are conspiracy theories about its origins.

There have been claims that the coronavirus was accidentally leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was allegedly conducting research on bioweapons. Then, there have been allegations that the characteristics of novel coronavirus showed it was artificially engineered, bolstering claims the disease was not naturally caused.

On Sunday, Global Times, a state-owned media outlet in China, claimed that researchers in China had evidence to prove that coronavirus might have "come from some natural recombination events among viruses in bats and other wildlife species" and was not created in a laboratory.

The research team consisted of scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Sydney.

Yang Zhanqiu, a virologist at Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Sunday that natural recombination was a form of mutation common for viruses. "If the recombination has a high frequency, it means that the virus has various host animals," Yang said.

The study, published on BioRxiv, an open source repository for biological research, was based on analysis of 227 bat samples collected from Yunnan province between May and October last year.

The study claims, "bat-derived coronavirus RmYN02 shares about 93 per cent similarity in gene sequence with its close relative HCoV-19, a novel coronavirus that causes the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. RmYN02 shows the insertion of multiple amino acids at two junction spots of the Spike (S) protein, once cited as evidence of laboratory creation of COVID-19."

Other recent studies have claimed bats, pangolins and other wild animals could have been hosts for the coronavirus.

While scientists have been sceptical about claims the novel coronavirus was a result of bioweapon research, the conspiracy theories have continued.

In February, US Senator Tom Cotton referred to the Wuhan lab link. Cotton told Fox News, “We don’t know where it [coronavirus] originated. But we do know we have to get to the bottom of that. We also know that just a few miles away from that food market (place from where first cases were detected) is China’s only biosafety level 4 super laboratory that researches human infectious diseases.” Cotton repeatedly accused China of managing the flow of information about coronavirus and being dishonest.

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