The Chinese authorities claim the wet market in Wuhan said to be at the centre of the coronavirus pandemic is actually a ‘victim’ of the virus.
The state-backed Chinese Centre of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said genetic evidence now proves the killer bug originated from bats before it was transmitted to humans.
Chinese CDC had previously said the first cases of the virus emerged at the market at The Huanan Seafood Market where rats, snakes are openly and illegally on sale.
But the exact location of where Covid-19 started remains a mystery as the Chinese CDC said samples of animals in the market tested negative for the virus.
On Thursday Gao Fu, the director of the Chinese CDC, told Chinese state media: “It now turns out that the market is one of the victims.”
As the animals in the market tested negative it means they couldn’t have infected traders or shoppers.
Colin Carlson, a zoologist at Georgetown University told Live Science said this means the market was likely to have been the location where one sick person there became a ‘super spreader’.
He said it could take years to find out how the virus jumped from animals to humans, where it spread and its exact origin.
“This is an animal-origin virus that made the leap, maybe from bats to humans, maybe through… another animal, maybe through livestock. And we don’t have the data yet to know where or how.” he said.
“That takes time. The study that really definitively showed the bats that SARS came from was published in 2017,’ – 15 years after SARS first broke out.
“It took that long to go through caves, to go through samples, and build an evidence base where we could confidently say: ‘This was the sort of bat, in this cave, at this time.”
Conflicting information about the origins of coronavirus has led to claims of cover up which has disputed by researchers in and out of China.
This new revelation may fuel speculation that the virus was leaked from a Chinese research laboratory.
Earlier this month US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said there was growing proof the pandemic began in a Chinese lab.
But researchers in the US and China say there is no evidence to support this theory.
A majority of the original 41 cases of coronavirus reported to the World Health Organisation in December were linked to the 116-acre market.
The virus is believed to have been active in Wuhan before the cases were reported to WHO.
Stomach-churning picture emerged of food market in China which showed animals illegally for sale inside the building that had dirt-encrusted floors and walls splattered with blood.
Wild, exotic and farmed animals were packed together and described as a breeding ground for the disease and an incubator for a multitude of viruses to evolve and make the jump to humans.
The market was closed in January and according to reports the majority of its 3,600 shops had reopened by April 14.
According to the Chinese CDC study 13 of the original cases showed no link to the wet market.
Research from January showed the first person confirmed to have contracted coronavirus was likely exposed as early as December 1 before showing symptoms on December 8.
The ‘patient zero’ has not been confirmed but authorities believe it may have been a 55-year-old man from Hubei province who was infected on November 17.
If so it means the virus was around Wuhan for weeks before the ‘super spreader event’ at the market.
Wang Yanyi, director of the Wuhan virus lab, said Covid-19 is genetically different from any live virus they ever studied in the institute.
Other studies compared the genome of the virus with genetic information on other bat coronaviruses held at the lab but there was no match.
The news comes as a virologist referred to as ‘Bat Woman’ has warned about a new SARS-like pandemic caused by bats and viruses being involved in an ‘evolutionary arms race’.
Shi Zhengli is one of the world’s authorities on coronavirus.
Shi, who has been credited with unlocking the genetic code for Covid-19, said a study found that coronaviruses and bats may have co-evolved over time and experience selection pressure from each other.
The 55-year-old, based in Wuhan, claims the new threat is a result of the flying mammals and the virus constantly evolving.