Is it in the Bat Cave, Batman ?

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trader32176
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Is it in the Bat Cave, Batman ?

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NIH-halted study unveils its massive analysis of bat coronaviruses

6/1/20

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/06 ... onaviruses

An international team of scientists whose funding for research on bat coronaviruses was recently yanked by the U.S. government has published what it calls the most comprehensive analysis ever done of such viruses
. In a preprint posted yesterday on bioRxiv, the researchers examine partial genetic sequences of 781 coronaviruses found in bats in China, more than one-third of which have never been published.

Although the analysis cannot pinpoint the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, it does single out one genus, Rhinolophus, also known as Chinese horseshoe bats, as crucial to the evolution of coronaviruses. “It seems that by sheer phylogeographic, historical, evolutionary bad luck, Rhinolophus ends up being the major reservoir for SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome]-related coronaviruses,” says study co-author Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit that last month saw its multimillion-dollar grant to study bat coronaviruses with colleagues in China cut by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).
On 21 May, 77 Nobel laureates urged NIH to reconsider its decision to end the funding.
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Re: Is it in the Bat Cave, Batman ?

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China Cuts Hunt for Virus Origins

12/30/20


https://www.dtnpf.com/agriculture/web/a ... us-origins

MOJIANG, China (AP) -- Deep in the lush mountain valleys of southern China lies the entrance to a mine shaft that once harbored bats with the closest known relative of the COVID-19 virus.

The area is of intense scientific interest because it may hold clues to the origins of the coronavirus that has killed more than 1.7 million people worldwide. Yet for scientists and journalists, it has become a black hole of no information because of political sensitivity and secrecy.

A bat research team visiting recently managed to take samples but had them confiscated, two people familiar with the matter said. Specialists in coronaviruses have been ordered not to speak to the press. And a team of Associated Press journalists was tailed by plainclothes police in multiple cars who blocked access to roads and sites in late November.

More than a year since the first known person was infected with the coronavirus, an AP investigation shows the Chinese government is strictly controlling all research into its origins, clamping down on some while actively promoting fringe theories that it could have come from outside China.

The government is handing out hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to scientists researching the virus' origins in southern China and affiliated with the military, the AP has found. But it is monitoring their findings and mandating that the publication of any data or research must be approved by a new task force managed by China's cabinet, under direct orders from President Xi Jinping, according to internal documents obtained by The AP. A rare leak from within the government, the dozens of pages of unpublished documents confirm what many have long suspected: The clampdown comes from the top.

As a result, very little has been made public. Authorities are severely limiting information and impeding cooperation with international scientists.

"What did they find?" asked Gregory Gray, a Duke University epidemiologist who oversees a lab in China studying the transmission of infectious diseases from animals to people. "Maybe their data were not conclusive, or maybe they suppressed the data for some political reason. I don't know...I wish I did."

The AP investigation was based on dozens of interviews with Chinese and foreign scientists and officials, along with public notices, leaked emails, internal data and the documents from China's cabinet and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It reveals a pattern of government secrecy and top-down control that has been evident throughout the pandemic.

As the AP previously documented, this culture has delayed warnings about the pandemic, blocked the sharing of information with the World Health Organization and hampered early testing. Scientists familiar with China's public health system say the same practices apply to sensitive research.

"They only select people they can trust, those that they can control," said a public health expert who works regularly with the China CDC, declining to be identified out of fear of retribution. "Military teams and others are working hard on this, but whether it gets published all depends on the outcome."

The pandemic has crippled Beijing's reputation on the global stage, and China's leaders are wary of any findings that could suggest they were negligent in its spread. The Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology and the National Health Commission, which are managing research into the coronavirus' origins, did not respond to requests for comment.

"The novel coronavirus has been discovered in many parts of the world," China's foreign ministry said in a fax. "Scientists should carry out international scientific research and cooperation on a global scale."

Some Chinese scientists say little has been shared simply because nothing of significance has been discovered.

"We've been looking, but we haven't found it," said Zhang Yongzhen, a renowned Chinese virologist.

China's leaders are far from alone in politicizing research into the origins of the virus. In April, President Donald Trump shelved a U.S.-funded project to identify dangerous animal diseases in China and Southeast Asia, effectively severing ties between Chinese and American scientists and complicating the search for virus origins. Trump also has accused China of setting off the pandemic through an accident at a Wuhan lab --- a theory that some experts say cannot be ruled out but as yet has no evidence behind it.

Research into COVID-19's origins is critical to the prevention of future pandemics. Although a World Health Organization international team plans to visit China in early January to investigate what started the pandemic, its members and agenda had to be approved by China.

Some public health experts warn that China's refusal to grant further access to international scientists has jeopardized the global collaboration that pinpointed the source of the SARS outbreak nearly two decades ago. Jonna Mazet, a founding executive director of the UC Davis One Health Institute, said the lack of collaboration between Chinese and U.S. scientists was "a disappointment" and the inability of American scientists to work in China "devastating."

"There's so much speculation around the origins of this virus," Mazet said. "We need to step back...and let scientists get the real answer without the finger-pointing."

The hidden hunt for the origins of COVID-19 shows how the Chinese government has tried to steer the narrative.

The search started in the Huanan Seafood market in Wuhan, a sprawling, low-slung complex where many of the first human coronavirus cases were detected. Scientists initially suspected the virus came from wild animals sold in the market, such as civet cats implicated in the spread of SARS.

In mid-December last year, Huanan vendor Jiang Dafa started noticing people were falling ill. Among the first was a part-time worker in his 60s who helped clean carcasses at a stall; soon, a friend he played chess with also fell ill. A third, a seafood monger in his 40s, was infected and later died.

Patients began trickling into nearby hospitals, triggering alarms by late December that alerted the China CDC. CDC chief Gao Fu immediately sent a team to investigate.

At first, research appeared to be moving swiftly.
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Re: Is it in the Bat Cave, Batman ?

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How China’s ‘Bat Woman’ Hunted Down Viruses from SARS to the New Coronavirus

Wuhan-based virologist Shi Zhengli has identified dozens of deadly SARS-like viruses in bat caves, and she warns there are more out there


June 1, 2020

https://www.scientificamerican.com/arti ... onavirus1/


The mysterious patient samples arrived at the Wuhan Institute of Virology at 7 P.M. on December 30, 2019. Moments later Shi Zhengli’s cell phone rang. It was her boss, the institute’s director. The Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention had detected a novel coronavirus in two hospital patients with atypical pneumonia, and it wanted Shi’s renowned laboratory to investigate. If the finding was confirmed, the new pathogen could pose a serious public health threat—because it belonged to the same family of viruses as the one that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a disease that plagued 8,100 people and killed nearly 800 of them between 2002 and 2003. “Drop whatever you are doing and deal with it now,” she recalls the director saying.

Shi, a virologist who is often called China’s “bat woman” by her colleagues because of her virus-hunting expeditions in bat caves over the past 16 years, walked out of the conference she was attending in Shanghai and hopped on the next train back to Wuhan. “I wondered if [the municipal health authority] got it wrong,” she says. “I had never expected this kind of thing to happen in Wuhan, in central China.” Her studies had shown that the southern, subtropical provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan have the greatest risk of coronaviruses jumping to humans from animals—particularly bats, a known reservoir. If coronaviruses were the culprit, she remembers thinking, “Could they have come from our lab?”

While Shi’s team at the Wuhan institute, an affiliate of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, raced to uncover the identity of the contagion—over the following week they connected the illness to the novel coronavirus that become known as SARS-CoV-2—the disease spread like wildfire. By April 20 more than 84,000 people in China had been infected. About 80 percent of them lived in the province of Hubei, of which Wuhan is the capital, and more than 4,600 had died. Outside of China, about 2.4 million people across 210 or so countries and territories had caught the virus, and more than 169,000 had perished from the disease it caused, COVID-19.

Scientists have long warned that the rate of emergence of new infectious diseases is accelerating—especially in developing countries where high densities of people and animals increasingly mingle and move about. “It’s incredibly important to pinpoint the source of infection and the chain of cross-species transmission,” says disease ecologist Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a New York City–based nonprofit research organization that collaborates with researchers, such as Shi, in 30 countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East to discover new viruses in wildlife. An equally important task, he adds, is to hunt down other pathogens to “prevent similar incidents from happening again.”

THE CAVES


To Shi, her first virus-discovery expedition felt like a vacation. On a breezy, sunny spring day in 2004, she joined an international team of researchers to collect samples from bat colonies in caves near Nanning, the capital of Guangxi. Her inaugural cave was typical of the region: large, rich in limestone columns and—as a popular tourist destination—easily accessible. “It was spellbinding,” Shi recalls. Milky-white stalactites hung from the ceiling like icicles, glistening with moisture.

But the holidaylike atmosphere soon dissipated. Many bats—including several insect-eating species of horseshoe bats that are abundant in southern Asia—roost in deep, narrow caves on steep terrain. Often guided by tips from local villagers, Shi and her colleagues had to hike for hours to potential sites and inch through tight rock crevasses on their stomachs. And the flying mammals can be elusive. In one frustrating week, the team explored more than 30 caves and saw only a dozen bats.

These expeditions were part of the effort to catch the culprit in the SARS outbreak, the first major epidemic of the 21st century. A Hong Kong team had reported that wildlife traders in Guangdong first caught the SARS coronavirus from civets, mongooselike mammals that are native to tropical and subtropical Asia and Africa.

Before SARS, the world had only an inkling of coronaviruses—so named because their spiky surface resembles a crown when seen under a microscope, says Linfa Wang, who directs the emerging infectious diseases program at Singapore’s Duke-NUS Medical School. Coronaviruses were mostly known for causing common colds. “The SARS outbreak was a game changer,” Wang says. It was the first emergence of a deadly coronavirus with pandemic potential. The incident helped to jump-start a global search for animal viruses that could find their way into humans. Shi was an early recruit of that effort, and both Daszak and Wang have been her long-term collaborators.

With the SARS virus, just how the civets got it remained a mystery. Two previous incidents were telling: Australia’s 1994 Hendra virus infections, in which the contagion jumped from horses to humans, and Malaysia’s 1998 Nipah virus outbreak, in which it moved from pigs to people. Wang found that both diseases were caused by pathogens that originated in fruit-eating bats. Horses and pigs were merely the intermediate hosts. Bats in the Guangdong market also contained traces of the SARS virus, but many scientists dismissed this as contamination. Wang, however, thought bats might be the source.

In those first virus-hunting months in 2004, whenever Shi’s team located a bat cave, it would put a net at the opening before dusk and then wait for the nocturnal creatures to venture out to feed for the night. Once the bats were trapped, the researchers took blood and saliva samples, as well as fecal swabs, often working into the small hours. After catching up on some sleep, they would return to the cave in the morning to collect urine and fecal pellets.

But sample after sample turned up no trace of genetic material from coronaviruses. It was a heavy blow. “Eight months of hard work seemed to have gone down the drain,” Shi says. “We thought maybe bats had nothing to do with SARS.” The scientists were about to give up when a research group in a neighboring lab handed them a diagnostic kit for testing antibodies produced by people with SARS.

There was no guarantee that the test would work for bat antibodies, but Shi gave it a go anyway. “What did we have to lose?” she says. The results exceeded her expectations. Samples from three horseshoe bat species contained antibodies to the SARS virus. “It was a turning point for the project,” Shi says. The researchers learned that the presence of the coronavirus in bats was ephemeral and seasonal—but an antibody reaction could last from weeks to years. The diagnostic kit, therefore, offered a valuable pointer as to how to hunt down viral genomic sequences.

Shi’s team used the antibody test to narrow down the list of locations and bat species to pursue in the quest for genomic clues. After roaming mountainous terrain in most of China’s dozens of provinces, the researchers turned their attention to one spot: Shitou Cave, on the outskirts of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, where they conducted intense sampling during different seasons over five consecutive years.

The efforts paid off. The pathogen hunters discovered hundreds of bat-borne coronaviruses with incredible genetic diversity. “The majority of them are harmless,” Shi says. But dozens belong to the same group as SARS. They can infect human lung cells in a petri dish and cause SARS-like diseases in mice.

In Shitou Cave—where painstaking scrutiny has yielded a natural genetic library of bat-borne viruses—the team discovered a coronavirus strain that came from horseshoe bats with a genomic sequence nearly 97 percent identical to the one found in civets in Guangdong. The finding concluded a decade-long search for the natural reservoir of the SARS coronavirus.

A DANGEROUS MIX

In many bat dwellings Shi has sampled, including Shitou Cave, “constant mixing of different viruses creates a great opportunity for dangerous new pathogens to emerge,” says Ralph Baric, a virologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the vicinity of such viral melting pots, Shi says, “you don’t need to be a wildlife trader to be infected.”

Near Shitou Cave, for example, many villages sprawl among the lush hillsides in a region known for its roses, oranges, walnuts and hawthorn berries. In October 2015 Shi’s team collected blood samples from more than 200 residents in four of those villages. It found that six people, or nearly 3 percent, carried antibodies against SARS-like coronaviruses from bats—even though none of them had handled wildlife or reported SARS-like or other pneumonialike symptoms. Only one had traveled outside of Yunnan prior to the sampling, and all said they had seen bats flying in their village.

Three years earlier Shi’s team had been called in to investigate the virus profile of a mine shaft in Yunnan’s mountainous Mojiang County—famous for its fermented Pu’er tea—where six miners suffered from pneumonialike diseases and two died. After sampling the cave for a year, the researchers discovered a diverse group of coronaviruses in six bat species. In many cases, multiple viral strains had infected a single animal, turning it into a flying factory for new viruses.

“The mine shaft stunk like hell,” says Shi, who, like her colleagues, went in wearing a protective mask and clothing. “Bat guano, covered in fungus, littered the cave.” Although the fungus turned out to be the pathogen that had sickened the miners, she says it would have been only a matter of time before they caught the coronaviruses if the mine had not been promptly shut.

With growing human populations increasingly encroaching on wildlife habitats, with unprecedented changes in land use, with wildlife and livestock transported across countries and their products around the world, and with sharp increases in both domestic and international travel, pandemics of new diseases are a mathematical near certainty. This had been keeping Shi and many other researchers awake at night long before the mysterious samples landed at the Wuhan Institute of Virology on that ominous evening last December.

More than a year ago Shi’s team published two comprehensive reviews about coronaviruses in Viruses and Nature Reviews Microbiology. Drawing evidence from her own studies—many of which were published in top academic journals—and from others, Shi and her co-authors warned of the risk of future outbreaks of bat-borne coronaviruses.

NIGHTMARE SCENARIO

On the train back to Wuhan on December 30 last year, Shi and her colleagues discussed ways to immediately start testing the patients’ samples. In the following weeks—the most intense and the most stressful time of her life—China’s bat woman felt she was fighting a battle in her worst nightmare, even though it was one she had been preparing for over the past 16 years. Using a technique called polymerase chain reaction, which can detect a virus by amplifying its genetic material, the team found that samples from five of seven patients had genetic sequences present in all coronaviruses.

Shi instructed her group to repeat the tests and, at the same time, sent the samples to another facility to sequence the full viral genomes. Meanwhile she frantically went through her own lab’s records from the past few years to check for any mishandling of experimental materials, especially during disposal. Shi breathed a sigh of relief when the results came back: none of the sequences matched those of the viruses her team had sampled from bat caves. “That really took a load off my mind,” she says. “I had not slept a wink for days.”

By January 7 the Wuhan team had determined that the new virus had indeed caused the disease those patients suffered—a conclusion based on results from analyses using polymerase chain reaction, full genome sequencing, antibody tests of blood samples and the virus’s ability to infect human lung cells in a petri dish. The genomic sequence of the virus, eventually named SARS-CoV-2, was 96 percent identical to that of a coronavirus the researchers had identified in horseshoe bats in Yunnan. Their results appeared in a paper published online on February 3 in Nature. “It’s crystal clear that bats, once again, are the natural reservoir,” says Daszak, who was not involved in the study.

Since then, researchers have published more than 4,500 genomic sequences of the virus, showing that samples around the world appear to “share a common ancestor,” Baric says. The data also point to a single introduction into humans followed by sustained human-to-human transmission, researchers say.

Given that the virus seems fairly stable initially and that many infected individuals appear to have mild symptoms, scientists suspect that the pathogen might have been around for weeks or even months before severe cases raised the alarm. “There might have been mini outbreaks, but the viruses either burned out or maintained low-level transmission before causing havoc,” Baric says. Most animal-borne viruses reemerge periodically, he adds, so “the Wuhan outbreak is by no means incidental.”

MARKET FORCES

To many, the region’s burgeoning wildlife markets—which sell a wide range of animals such as bats, civets, pangolins, badgers and crocodiles—are perfect viral melting pots. Although humans could have caught the deadly virus from bats directly (according to several studies, including those by Shi and her colleagues), independent teams have suggested that pangolins may have been an intermediate host. These teams have reportedly uncovered SARS-CoV-2-like coronaviruses in pangolins that were seized in antismuggling operations in southern China.

On February 24 China announced a permanent ban on wildlife consumption and trade except for research, medicinal or display purposes—which will stamp out an industry worth $76 billion and put approximately 14 million people out of jobs, according to a 2017 report commissioned by the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Some welcome the initiative, whereas others, such as Daszak, worry that without efforts to change people’s traditional beliefs or to provide alternative livelihoods, a blanket ban may simply push the business underground. This could make disease detection even more challenging. “Eating wildlife has been part of the cultural tradition” in China for thousands of years, Daszak says. “It won’t change overnight.”

In any case, Shi says, “wildlife trade and consumption are only part of problem.” In late 2016 pigs across four farms in Qingyuan County in Guangdong—60 miles from the site where the SARS outbreak originated—suffered from acute vomiting and diarrhea, and nearly 25,000 of the animals died. Local veterinarians could not detect any known pathogen and called Shi for help. The cause of the illness—swine acute diarrhea syndrome (SADS)—turned out to be a virus whose genomic sequence was 98 percent identical to that of a coronavirus found in horseshoe bats in a nearby cave.

“This is a serious cause for concern,” says Gregory Gray, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Duke University. Pigs and humans have very similar immune systems, making it easy for viruses to cross between the two species. Moreover, a team at Zhejiang University in the Chinese city of Hangzhou found that the SADS virus could infect cells from many organisms in a petri dish, including rodents, chickens, nonhuman primates and humans. Given the scale of swine farming in many countries, such as China and the U.S., Gray says, looking for novel coronaviruses in pigs should be a top priority.

The current outbreak follows several others during the past three decades that have been caused by six different bat-borne viruses: Hendra, Nipah, Marburg, SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and Ebola. But “the animals [themselves] are not the problem,” Wang says. In fact, bats promote biodiversity and ecosystem health by eating insects and pollinating plants. “The problem arises when we get in contact with them,” he says.

TOWARD PREVENTION


When I spoke to Shi in late February—two months into the epidemic and one month after the government imposed severe movement restrictions in Wuhan, a megacity of 11 million—she said, laughing, that life felt almost normal. “Maybe we are getting used to it. The worst days are certainly over.” The institute staffers had a special pass to travel from home to their lab, but they could not go anywhere else. They had to subsist on instant noodles during their long hours at work because the institute’s canteen was closed.

New revelations about the coronavirus kept coming to light. The researchers discovered, for instance, that the pathogen enters human lung cells by using a receptor called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, and they and other groups have since been screening for drugs that can block it. Scientists are also racing to develop vaccines. In the long run, the Wuhan team plans to develop broad-spectrum vaccines and drugs against coronaviruses deemed risky to humans. “The Wuhan outbreak is a wake-up call,” Shi says.

Many scientists say the world should move beyond merely responding to deadly pathogens when they arise. “The best way forward is prevention,” Daszak says. Because 70 percent of emerging infectious diseases of animal origins come from wildlife, a top priority should be identifying them and developing better diagnostic tests, he adds. Doing so would essentially mean continuing on a much larger scale what researchers such as Daszak and Shi had been doing before their funding ended this year.

Such efforts should focus on high-risk viral groups in mammals prone to coronavirus infections, such as bats, rodents, badgers, civets, pangolins and nonhuman primates, Daszak says. He adds that developing countries in the tropics, where wildlife diversity is greatest, should be the front line of this battle against viruses.

Daszak and his colleagues have analyzed approximately 500 human infectious diseases from the past century. They found that the emergence of new pathogens tends to happen in places where a dense population has been changing the landscape—by building roads and mines, cutting down forests and intensifying agriculture. “China is not the only hotspot,” he says, noting that other major emerging economies, such as India, Nigeria and Brazil, are also at great risk.

Once potential pathogens are mapped out, scientists and public health officials can regularly check for possible infections by analyzing blood and swab samples from livestock, from wild animals that are farmed and traded, and from high-risk human populations such as farmers, miners, villagers who live near bats, and people who hunt or handle wildlife, Gray says. This approach, known as “One Health,” aims to integrate the health management of wildlife, livestock and people. “Only then can we catch an outbreak before it turns into an epidemic,” he says, adding that the strategy could potentially save the hundreds of billions of dollars such an epidemic can cost.

Back in Wuhan, where the lockdown was finally lifted on April 8, China’s bat woman is not in a celebratory mood. She is distressed because stories from the Internet and major media have repeated a tenuous suggestion that SARS-CoV-2 accidentally leaked from her lab—despite the fact that its genetic sequence does not match any her lab had previously studied. Other scientists are quick to dismiss the allegation. “Shi leads a world-class lab of the highest standards,” Daszak says.

Despite the disturbance, Shi is determined to continue her work. “The mission must go on,” she says. “What we have uncovered is just the tip of an iceberg.” She is planning to lead a national project to systematically sample viruses in bat caves, with much wider scope and intensity than previous attempts. Daszak’s team has estimated that there are more than 5,000 coronavirus strains waiting to be discovered in bats globally.

“Bat-borne coronaviruses will cause more outbreaks,” Shi says with a tone of brooding certainty. “We must find them before they find us.” 
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Re: Is it in the Bat Cave, Batman ?

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China is guarding ancient bat caves against journalists and scientists seeking to discover the origins of the coronavirus

12/30/20


https://www.businessinsider.com/china-p ... de-2020-12


China is guarding ancient caves where bats infected with coronavirus variants once lived in an attempt to control research into the outbreak, The Associated Press reported.

The caves, located in China's southern Yunnan Province, are thought to hold the key to understanding how the novel coronavirus evolved in bats. They have yielded information about other coronaviruses before.

In 2017, scientists tracked down the bats responsible for the 2003 SARS outbreak there. The region also played host to the 2012 discovery of RaTG13, a close variant of the coronavirus, which a study in February found to share 96% of its genetic makeup.

But China is taking steps to safeguard the site and control who gets access, The AP said, adding that a team of its journalists were tailed by security services and refused entry into one of the caves.

Authorities also confiscated samples taken by a team of scientists on a recent trip to the caves and police blocked access to roads and sites around the caves in late November, the AP said.

On a recent visit, the BBC reported that "unidentified men told us their job was to keep us out" and that a truck was abandoned in the road to block their convoy.

Some scientists are allowed in though most are affiliated with the Chinese military, the AP said.

All research papers based on evidence from the caves must be submitted to a task force overseen by the government in Beijing "under direct orders from President Xi Jinping."

Bats are well known for carrying a plethora of viruses that do not make them sick. A 2019 study found that one bat can carry more than 200 coronaviruses.

Another coronavirus was discovered in the bats from the Yunnan caves in 2019, as Business Insider's Aylin Woodward previously reported.

The study published in the journal Current Biology identified a previously unknown coronavirus named RmYN02 "that's 97.1% similar to SARS-CoV-2" that was found between May and October 2019.

Many of the samples taken from the caves have been transferred to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the BBC said, a facility at the center of a baseless conspiracy theory that accused it of leaking the coronavirus from a lab.

The lab denies the theory.
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Re: Is it in the Bat Cave, Batman ?

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Top US Official Says ‘Growing Body Of Evidence’ Shows COVID-19 Leaked From Chinese Lab

1/3/21


https://www.infowars.com/posts/top-us-o ... inese-lab/


The most ‘credible’ theory about the origin of COVID-19 is that it escaped from a Chinese laboratory, according to US National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger, who made the comment during a Zoom meeting with UK officials.

“There is a growing body of evidence that the lab is likely the most credible source of the virus,” said Pottinger, referring to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to the Daily Mail, which notes that ‘even China’s leaders openly admit their previous claims that the virus originated in a Wuhan market are false.’

Pottinger was one of the first US officials to sound the alarm at the White House over the origins of the virus in January 2020, when he initially suspected that the outbreak originated in a Chinese lab – after which Pottinger ordered US intelligence agencies to search for evidence. Good thing he kept this theory to himself, or Twitter may have banned him.

He also slammed the World Health Organization’s probe as a ruse – saying “MPs around the world have a moral role to play in exposing the WHO investigation as a Potemkin exercise,” referring to the facade villages created in 18th Century Crimea to convince the visiting Russian Empress Catherine the Great that the region was doing well.

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory Party leader who attended the meeting, said Mr Pottinger’s comments represented a ‘stiffening’ of the US position on the theory that the virus came from a leak at the laboratory, amid reports that the Americans are talking to a whistleblower from the Wuhan institute.

‘I was told the US have an ex-scientist from the laboratory in America at the moment,’ he said. ‘That was what I heard a few weeks ago.

‘I was led to believe this is how they have been able to stiffen up their position on how this outbreak originated.’

He added that Beijing’s refusal to allow journalists to visit the laboratory only served to increase suspicion that it was ‘ground zero’ for the pandemic. ‘The truth is there are people who have been in those labs who maintain that this is the case,’ he said.

‘We don’t know what they have been doing in that laboratory. They may well have been fiddling with bat coronaviruses and looking at them and they made a mistake. I’ve spoken to various people who believe that to be the case.’ –Daily Mail

“Even establishment figures in Beijing have openly dismissed the wet market story,” Pottinger told the call participants.

Meanwhile, emails obtained via a public records request revealed that influential scientists have been hard at work crafting the ‘natural origin’ thesis, while suggesting a lab leak as a ‘fringe conspiracy theory.’ Via USRTK.org:

.

Understanding the origins of SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19, may be crucial to preventing the next pandemic.


The emails of coronavirus expert Professor Ralph Baric – obtained through a public records request by U.S. Right to Know – show conversations between National Academy of Sciences (NAS) representatives, and experts in biosecurity and infectious diseases from U.S. universities and the EcoHealth Alliance.

On Feb. 3, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) to “convene meeting of experts… to assess what data, information and samples are needed to address the unknowns, in order to understand the evolutionary origins of 2019-nCoV, and more effectively respond to both the outbreak and any resulting misinformation.”

Baric and other infectious disease experts were involved in drafting the response. The emails show the experts’ internal discussions and an early draft dated Feb. 4.

The early draft described “initial views of the experts” that “the available genomic data are consistent with natural evolution and that there is currently no evidence that the virus was engineered to spread more quickly among humans.” This draft sentence posed a question, in parentheses:

“[ask experts to add specifics re binding sites?]” It also included a footnote in parentheses: “[possibly add brief explanation that this does not preclude an unintentional release from a laboratory studying the evolution of related coronaviruses].”

In one email, dated Feb. 4, infectious disease expert Trevor Bedford commented:

“I wouldn’t mention binding sites here. If you start weighing evidence there’s a lot to consider for both scenarios.”

By “both scenarios,” Bedford appears to refer to lab-origin and natural-origin scenarios.

The question of binding sites is important to the debate about the origins of SARS-CoV-2. Distinctive binding sites on SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein confer “near-optimal” binding and entry of the virus into human cells, and make SARS-CoV-2 more contagious than SARS-CoV. Scientists have argued that SARS-CoV-2’s unique binding sites could have originated either as a result of natural spillover in the wild or deliberate laboratory recombination of an as-yet-undisclosed natural ancestor of SARS-CoV-2.

The final letter published Feb. 6 did not mention binding sites or the possibility of a laboratory origin. It does make clear that more information is necessary to determine the origins of SARS-CoV-2. The letter states,

“The experts informed us that additional genomic sequence data from geographically – and temporally – diverse viral samples are needed to determine the origin and evolution of the virus. Samples collected as early as possible in the outbreak in Wuhan and samples from wildlife would be particularly valuable.”

The emails show some experts discussing the need for clear language to counter what one described as “crackpot theories” of lab origin. Kristian Andersen, lead author of an influential Nature Medicine paper asserting a natural origin of SARS-CoV-2, said:

the early draft was “great, but I do wonder if we need to be more firm on the question of engineering.”


The most ‘credible’ theory about the origin of COVID-19 is that it escaped from a Chinese laboratory, according to US National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger, who made the comment during a Zoom meeting with UK officials.

“There is a growing body of evidence that the lab is likely the most credible source of the virus,” said Pottinger, referring to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to the Daily Mail, which notes that ‘even China’s leaders openly admit their previous claims that the virus originated in a Wuhan market are false.’

Pottinger was one of the first US officials to sound the alarm at the White House over the origins of the virus in January 2020, when he initially suspected that the outbreak originated in a Chinese lab – after which Pottinger ordered US intelligence agencies to search for evidence. Good thing he kept this theory to himself, or Twitter may have banned him.

He also slammed the World Health Organization’s probe as a ruse – saying “MPs around the world have a moral role to play in exposing the WHO investigation as a Potemkin exercise,” referring to the facade villages created in 18th Century Crimea to convince the visiting Russian Empress Catherine the Great that the region was doing well.

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory Party leader who attended the meeting, said Mr Pottinger’s comments represented a ‘stiffening’ of the US position on the theory that the virus came from a leak at the laboratory, amid reports that the Americans are talking to a whistleblower from the Wuhan institute.

‘I was told the US have an ex-scientist from the laboratory in America at the moment,’ he said. ‘That was what I heard a few weeks ago.

‘I was led to believe this is how they have been able to stiffen up their position on how this outbreak originated.’

He added that Beijing’s refusal to allow journalists to visit the laboratory only served to increase suspicion that it was ‘ground zero’ for the pandemic. ‘The truth is there are people who have been in those labs who maintain that this is the case,’ he said.

‘We don’t know what they have been doing in that laboratory. They may well have been fiddling with bat coronaviruses and looking at them and they made a mistake. I’ve spoken to various people who believe that to be the case.’ –Daily Mail

“Even establishment figures in Beijing have openly dismissed the wet market story,” Pottinger told the call participants.

Meanwhile, emails obtained via a public records request revealed that influential scientists have been hard at work crafting the ‘natural origin’ thesis, while suggesting a lab leak as a ‘fringe conspiracy theory.’ Via USRTK.org:

* * *

Influential scientists and many news outlets have described the evidence as “overwhelming” that the virus originated in wildlife, not from a lab. However, a year after the first reported cases of SARS-CoV-2 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, little is known how or where the virus originated. Understanding the origins of SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19, may be crucial to preventing the next pandemic.

The emails of coronavirus expert Professor Ralph Baric – obtained through a public records request by U.S. Right to Know – show conversations between National Academy of Sciences (NAS) representatives, and experts in biosecurity and infectious diseases from U.S. universities and the EcoHealth Alliance.

On Feb. 3, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) asked the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) to “convene meeting of experts… to assess what data, information and samples are needed to address the unknowns, in order to understand the evolutionary origins of 2019-nCoV, and more effectively respond to both the outbreak and any resulting misinformation.”

Baric and other infectious disease experts were involved in drafting the response. The emails show the experts’ internal discussions and an early draft dated Feb. 4.

The early draft described “initial views of the experts” that “the available genomic data are consistent with natural evolution and that there is currently no evidence that the virus was engineered to spread more quickly among humans.” This draft sentence posed a question, in parentheses:

“[ask experts to add specifics re binding sites?]” It also included a footnote in parentheses: “[possibly add brief explanation that this does not preclude an unintentional release from a laboratory studying the evolution of related coronaviruses].”

In one email, dated Feb. 4, infectious disease expert Trevor Bedford commented:

“I wouldn’t mention binding sites here. If you start weighing evidence there’s a lot to consider for both scenarios.”

By “both scenarios,” Bedford appears to refer to lab-origin and natural-origin scenarios.

The question of binding sites is important to the debate about the origins of SARS-CoV-2. Distinctive binding sites on SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein confer “near-optimal” binding and entry of the virus into human cells, and make SARS-CoV-2 more contagious than SARS-CoV. Scientists have argued that SARS-CoV-2’s unique binding sites could have originated either as a result of natural spillover in the wild or deliberate laboratory recombination of an as-yet-undisclosed natural ancestor of SARS-CoV-2.

The final letter published Feb. 6 did not mention binding sites or the possibility of a laboratory origin. It does make clear that more information is necessary to determine the origins of SARS-CoV-2. The letter states,

“The experts informed us that additional genomic sequence data from geographically – and temporally – diverse viral samples are needed to determine the origin and evolution of the virus. Samples collected as early as possible in the outbreak in Wuhan and samples from wildlife would be particularly valuable.”

The emails show some experts discussing the need for clear language to counter what one described as “crackpot theories” of lab origin. Kristian Andersen, lead author of an influential Nature Medicine paper asserting a natural origin of SARS-CoV-2, said:

the early draft was “great, but I do wonder if we need to be more firm on the question of engineering.”

He continued,

“If one of the main purposes of this document is to counter those fringe theories, I think it’s very important that we do so strongly and in plain language…”

In his response, Baric aimed at conveying a scientific basis for SARS-CoV-2’s natural origin.

“I do think we need to say that the closest relative to this virus (96%) was identified from bats circulating in a cave in Yunnan, China. This makes a strong statement for animal origin.”

Meanwhile, 27 scientists issued a statement drafted by Daszak (who didn’t want to be identified as its author), in which they “strongly condemn[ed] conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” and reported that scientists from multiple countries “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife.” The letter included no scientific references to refute a lab-origin theory of the virus.

One scientist, Linda Saif, asked via email whether it would be useful “to add just one or 2 statements in support of why nCOV is not a lab generated virus and is naturally occuring? Seems critical to scientifically refute such claims!”

Daszak responded, “I think we should probably stick to a broad statement.”

Growing calls to investigate the Wuhan Institute of Virology as a potential source of SARS-CoV-2 have led to increased scrutiny of EcoHealth Alliance.

The emails show how members of EcoHealth Alliance played an early role in framing questions about possible lab origin of SARS-CoV-2 as “crackpot theories that need to be addressed,” as Daszak told The Guardian.
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China Finally Green Lights WHO Investigation Into Coronavirus Origins As Daily Covid-19 Cases Spike To Five-Month High

1/11/20


https://www.forbes.com/sites/roberthart ... e67a036511


The World Health Organization team investigating the origins of Covid-19 will finally be allowed access to China to work alongside a local team of scientists, the country’s health authority announced Monday as the mainland recorded its biggest increase in daily coronavirus cases since July, a grim figure largely brought about by a surge of cases in Hebei province, near Beijing.


Key Facts

There were 103 new Covid-19 cases reported in mainland China Sunday, the country’s health authority said Monday, the largest daily increase in cases in more than five months.

85 of these infections were transmitted locally, the authority said, 82 of which were in the struggling province of Hebei, where areas have been placed under strict lockdown in a bid to contain the virus and prevent it spreading to nearby Beijing.

Amid the spike in cases, Chinese authorities have said they are finally ready to admit an expert team of World Health Organization scientists into the country to investigate the origins of the novel coronavirus after months of tense negotiations.

China blocked the scientists’ arrival in early January and authorities have not yet said where the team will be allowed to go when they do arrive on January 14, but according to reports, are set to visit the city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in late 2019.

China has been accused of trying to cover up the origins of Covid-19 and officials have been trying to alter existing narratives by suggesting the virus was imported into China from overseas.

The expert team "will conduct joint research cooperation on the origins of Covid-19 with Chinese scientists," the Chinese health authority said.

Key Background

Countries and organizations around the world have been trying to get experts into China to investigate the origins of Covid-19 for months. China has stonewalled, leaving many crucial details about the emergence of this deadly virus unknown. It is believed to have crossed over from animals into humans in the later months of 2019. This is believed to have happened in China, and the first identified case was from a novel coronavirus that had been circulating in the city of Wuhan. The first outbreak is linked to a market there, which researchers have been trying to access in order to better understand the virus’ origins. Some, including U.S. President Donald Trump, are calling for China to pay reparations for its apparent role in the virus’ emergence — something the World Health Organization has been grappling with as it tries to get boots on the ground. In recent months, China has been making a concerted effort to relocate the virus’ birthplace outside of its borders, including engaging in a blame-shifting propaganda campaign, trying to relocate the virus’ origin outside of China.

Tangent

Last July, as the spread of coronavirus began to ramp up in the U.S., Trump formally withdrew the U.S. from the WHO, accusing the health body of being “China-centric” and not acting fast enough.

Big Number

90 million. At the time of writing, over 90 million people around the world have had Covid-19. Nearly 2 million people have died from the disease.

What To Watch For

Parts of Hebei are under strict lockdown as authorities struggle to contain the virus. The capital, Shijiazhuang, is hardest hit, and people have been barred from leaving. While cases here, and in the rest of China, are much lower than in the earliest Covid-19 wave, cases could begin to spiral out of control as has happened in many other cities around the world.
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WHO team probing COVID-19 origins to arrive in China on Jan. 14

Beijing offers no details on itinerary after delaying permission to enter

1/11/21


https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Coron ... on-Jan.-14


BEIJING (Reuters) -- A World Health Organization (WHO) team of international experts tasked with investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic will arrive in China on Jan. 14, Chinese authorities said on Monday.

Lack of authorisation from Beijing had delayed the arrival of the 10-strong team on a long-awaited mission to investigate early infections, in what China's foreign ministry called a "misunderstanding".

The National Health Commission, which announced the arrival date, delayed from its early January schedule, did not detail the team's itinerary, however.

China has been accused of a cover-up that delayed its initial response, allowing the virus to spread since it first emerged in the central city of Wuhan late in 2019.

The United States has called for a "transparent" WHO-led investigation and criticised its terms, which allowed Chinese scientists to do the first phase of preliminary research.

Ahead of the trip, Beijing has been seeking to shape the narrative about when and where the pandemic began, with senior diplomat Wang Yi saying "more and more studies" showed it emerged in multiple regions.

While other countries continue to struggle with infection surges, China has aggressively doused flare-ups.

Sunday's 103 new cases were mainland China's biggest daily increase in more than five months, as new infections rise in the province of Hebei, surrounding the capital, Beijing.

Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei, went into lockdown and Hebei closed down some sections of highways in the province to curb the spread of the virus.

Wangkui county, under the jurisdiction of Suihua city in Heilongjiang province, reported eight new asymptomatic cases and moved on Monday to close all non-essential businesses, banned people from leaving the city and blocked all non-essential traffic, state television reported on Monday.
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WHO team arrives in Wuhan to investigate coronavirus pandemic origins

1/13/21


https://www.wbtv.com/2021/01/14/who-tea ... c-origins/


WUHAN, China (AP) - A global team of researchers arrived Thursday in the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic was first detected to conduct a politically sensitive investigation into its origins amid uncertainty about whether Beijing might try to prevent embarrassing discoveries.

The group sent to Wuhan by the World Health Organization was approved by President Xi Jinping’s government after months of diplomatic wrangling that prompted an unusual public complaint by the head of WHO.

Scientists suspect the virus that has killed more than 1.9 million people since late 2019 jumped to humans from bats or other animals, most likely in China’s southwest. The ruling Communist Party, stung by complaints it allowed the disease to spread, says the virus came from abroad, possibly on imported seafood, but international scientists reject that.

Fifteen team members were to arrive in Wuhan on Thursday, but two tested positive for coronavirus antibodies before leaving Singapore and were being retested there, WHO said in a statement on Twitter.



The rest of the team arrived at the Wuhan airport and walked through a makeshift clear plastic tunnel into the airport. The researchers, who wore face masks, were greeted by airport staff in full protective gear, including masks, goggles and full body suits.

They will undergo a two-week quarantine as well as a throat swab test and an antibody test for COVID-19, according to CGTN, the English-language channel of state broadcaster CCTV. They are to start working with Chinese experts via video conference while in quarantine.

The team includes virus and other experts from the United States, Australia, Germany, Japan, Britain, Russia, the Netherlands, Qatar and Vietnam.


A government spokesman said this week they will “exchange views” with Chinese scientists but gave no indication whether they would be allowed to gather evidence.

China rejected demands for an international investigation after the Trump administration blamed Beijing for the virus’s spread, which plunged the global economy into its deepest slump since the 1930s.

After Australia called in April for an independent inquiry, Beijing retaliated by blocking imports of Australian beef, wine and other goods.

One possibility is that a wildlife poacher might have passed the virus to traders who carried it to Wuhan, one of the WHO team members, zoologist Peter Daszak of the U.S. group EcoHealth Alliance, told The Associated Press in November.

A single visit by scientists is unlikely to confirm the virus’s origins; pinning down an outbreak’s animal reservoir is typically an exhaustive endeavor that takes years of research including taking animal samples, genetic analysis and epidemiological studies.



“The government should be very transparent and collaborative,” said Shin-Ru Shih, director at the Research Center for Emerging Viral Infections at Taiwan’s Chang Gung University.

The Chinese government has tried to stir confusion about the virus’s origin. It has promoted theories, with little evidence, that the outbreak might have started with imports of tainted seafood, a notion rejected by international scientists and agencies.

“The WHO will need to conduct similar investigations in other places,” an official of the National Health Commission, Mi Feng, said Wednesday.

Some members of the WHO team were en route to China a week ago but had to turn back after Beijing announced they hadn’t received valid visas.

That might have been a “bureaucratic bungle,” but the incident “raises the question if the Chinese authorities were trying to interfere,” said Adam Kamradt-Scott, a health expert at the University of Sydney.

A possible focus for investigators is the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the city where the outbreak first emerged. One of China’s top virus research labs, it built an archive of genetic information about bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

According to WHO’s published agenda for its origins research, there are no plans to assess whether there might have been an accidental release of the coronavirus at the Wuhan lab, as some American politicians, including President Donald Trump, have claimed.


A “scientific audit” of Institute records and safety measures would be a “routine activity,” said Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh. He said that depends on how willing Chinese authorities are to share information.

“There’s a big element of trust here,” Woolhouse said.

An AP investigation found the government imposed controls on research into the outbreak and bars scientists from speaking to reporters.

The coronavirus’s exact origin may never be traced because viruses change quickly, Woolhouse said.

A year after the virus was first detected in Wuhan, the city is now bustling, with few signs that it was once the epicenter of the outbreak in China. But some residents say they’re still eager to learn about its origin.

“We locals care about this very much. We are curious where the pandemic came from and what the situation was. We live here so we are keen to know,” said Qin Qiong, owner of a chain of restaurants serving hot and sour noodles. She said she trusts in science to solve the question.

Although it may be challenging to find precisely the same COVID-19 virus in animals as in humans, discovering closely related viruses might help explain how the disease first jumped from animals and clarify what preventive measures are needed to avoid future epidemics.

Scientists should focus instead on making a “comprehensive picture” of the virus to help respond to future outbreaks, Woolhouse said.

“Now is not the time to blame anyone,” Shih said. “We shouldn’t say, it’s your fault.”
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