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Bats may be culprits for new Chinese coronavirus source, expert says

As yet other sources are not ruled out either, according to the scientist

MOSCOW, January 21. /TASS/. The outbreak of a previously unknown coronavirus that erupted in China at the end of 2019, may be linked to infections from bats and other wild animals, Georgy Bazykin, head of Molecular Evolution sector of Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Information Transmission Problems, told TASS.

"This virus is most similar to pathogens extracted from bats. This allows us to assume cautiously that the transmission of the virus from animals to humans happened via bats or some intermediate link, as it happened with other coronavirus outbreaks," Bazykin said.

On December 31, 2019, the Chinese authorities notified the World Health Organization about the outbreak of a previously unknown pneumonia in the city of Wuhan. On January 7, Chinese specialists determined the 2019-nCoV coronavirus to be the culprit. All suspected coronavirus cases underwent lab testing.

On January 21, the National Health Commission of China announced that the number of those infected climbed to 291. Separate cases of the 2019-nCoV infection were found in three other Asian nations: Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Today, Chinese media reported that the number of deceased Wuhan residents has risen to six.

"This time, our Chinese colleagues did a good job and obtained genome structure data fast. The sequences were uploaded to the public, and their analysis indicates they are very similar to [severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS], or atypical pneumonia virus, which spread across the PRC and neighboring countries in 2002. It is important to understand that this is not the same virus, albeit very similar," the scientist said.

A new menace

According to Bazykin, the new virus comes from the same group as the infamous SARS and MERS viruses, which cause atypical pneumonia and the Middle East respiratory syndrome. Over the past decade, both viruses took lives of several hundred people in the Middle East and East Asia, repeatedly causing epidemics, spreading via camels and poultry.

"We cannot rule out that the virus was transmitted not from bats but from other sources. On the other hand, there are no indications that it was caused by pigs or other livestock. We can only assume how it happened," Bazykin said.

Currently, scientists cannot predict when a vaccine will be ready and when the spread of the disease will be stopped. Epidemiologists are concerned that since the Lunar New Year in East Asia has arrived, this means that huge numbers of people from China and neighboring countries visit other cities and countries.

"According to up-to-date, very approximate, estimations, the maximum number of infection hosts is about 1,700 people, while the number of those hospitalized is much smaller. We can only say this virus is transmitted between humans, but we don’t know how reliable this transmission is. We cannot totally rule out its importation into Russia. During the atypical pneumonia period, we had one case of infection," the scientist said.

He was certain that simple methods of infection control, including thermal imagers at airports and in other public places, would help to contain this outbreak and prevent it from turning into a major epidemic. The scientist hoped that China and other nations would be able to avoid the introduction of stricter measures that were taken during the previous battle against atypical pneumonia.