AFP: New evidence that raccoon dogs were at the Chinese market where Covid is suspected to have first infected humans has reignited debate over the origin of the pandemic. The researchers who unexpectedly stumbled over the genetic data say that it supports — but cannot definitively prove — the theory that the virus originated in animals, possibly first jumping over to humans at the market in the city of Wuhan.
The issue has proved divisive for the scientific community and even different US government agencies, with some maintaining that the virus likely leaked from a Wuhan lab — a claim that China has angrily denied. Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead on Covid, said the new data “doesn’t give us the answer of how the pandemic began, but it does provide more clues”.
The data comes from swabs collected by a Chinese team in January and February 2020 at the Huanan Seafood Market, the site of one of the earliest Covid clusters, before it was shut down and cleared of animals. International researchers including Florence Debarre, an evolutionary biologist at France’s CNRS research agency, were surprised to come across the data on the GISAID global science database earlier this month. They managed to download the data before it was removed from GISAID at the request of the Chinese researchers who first posted it.