Coronavirus was not genetically engineered. Instead it is the first “Infodemic”
The spread of coronavirus seems to be slowing down in China as the country continues to put proper measure in place to slowdown the spread of the disease. However, the virus outbreak in Iran, Italy, and South Korea are raising fears of a broader epidemic. The coronavirus (COVID-19), caused by SARS-CoV-2 started in Whuan China started in December 2019. To date, coronavirus has claimed 2,701 human lives and wreck havoc to global markets.
As of 25 February 2020, around 80,149 cases have been confirmed, including in all provinces of China and more than two dozen other countries. Of these, 11,569 cases were classified as serious. There have been 2,701 deaths attributable to the disease, including 38 outside mainland China, surpassing that of the 2003 SARS outbreak.
As the virus spread around the world so are the rumors about the origin of the virus. We’ve written many stories about the virus ranging from Chinese scientists arguing that the the virus originated from China’s Wuhan laboratory. Some media outlets also pointed to comments from China’s President about the need to contain the coronavirus and set up a system to prevent similar epidemics in the future. President Xi said a national system to control biosecurity risks must be put in place “to protect the people’s health” because lab safety is a “national security” issue. To add to the suspicion, NY Post also pointed to a newly release directive from Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology titled: “Instructions on strengthening biosecurity management in microbiology labs that handle advanced viruses like the novel coronavirus.”
The problem, however, is these news stories have very little scientific merit. According to a new study published in ScienceDirect titled: “Full-genome evolutionary analysis of the novel corona virus (2019-nCoV) rejects the hypothesis of emergence as a result of a recent recombination event,” their findings show that the COVID-19 is 96 percent similar to the bat virus RaTG13. “The 2019-nCoV although closely related to BatCoV RaTG13 sequence throughout the genome (sequence similarity 96.3%), shows discordant clustering with the Bat_SARS-like coronavirus sequences,” the authors said.
The study concludes with the statement: “The levels of genetic similarity between the 2019-nCoV and RaTG13 suggest that the latter does not provide the exact variant that caused the outbreak in humans, but the hypothesis that 2019-nCoV has originated from bats is very likely. ” Their conclusion supports the widely accepted claim that coronavirus originated from Whuan meat market where bats are snakes were sold for food.
The question is, what do we make of the study published by Chinese scientists in The Lancet? The wider scientific community, upon seeing the paper, were also less than impressed with the speculations and conclusions drawn by the Chinese scientists. The scientist at the forefront of an international effort to track the deadly coronavirus outbreak shot down claims about the disease’s origins, including that it escaped from a Wuhan laboratory after being genetically engineered. Trevor Bedford, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said: “There is no evidence whatsoever of genetic engineering that we can find.” He made the statement at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle. “The evidence we have is that the mutations (in the virus) are completely consistent with natural evolution.”
Finally, on February 2, the World Health Organization (WHO) called the new coronavirus “a massive ‘infodemic,’” referring to ”an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.”
“Due to the high demand for timely and trustworthy information about 2019-nCoV, WHO technical risk
communication and social media teams have been working closely to track and respond to myths and rumours.
Through its headquarters in Geneva, its six regional offices and its partners, the Organization is working 24 hours a
day to identify the most prevalent rumors that can potentially harm the public’s health, such as false prevention
measures or cures. These myths are then refuted with evidence-based information. WHO is making public health
information and advice on the 2019-nCoV, including myth busters, available on its social media channels (including
Weibo, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest) and website,” WHO said.