Debate rages after China claims to have located original source of deadly coronavirus

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

China claims to have located and isolated the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan as the death toll from the outbreak rises to 81.

Experts of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention took samples from the Huanan Seafood Market, with 33 of 585 taken found to contain the nucleic acid of the virus, China’s state press agency Xinhua reported.

Thirty-one of the 33 positive samples were located in the western zone of the market where booths of exotic animal trading was concentrated, confirming earlier expert opinions that the market was the source of the virus.

China says it has identified the origins of the coronavirus at the now closed Huanan Seafood Market. Source: Getty
A young family protecting themselves from the virus in Beijing. Source: Getty

Intense scrutiny had been placed on the illegal trade of animals within the wet market, which was shut down on January 1, following the outbreak, with an array of animals including snakes, hedgehogs, dogs and koalas reportedly advertised for sale.

Such markets in China also have notoriously lower hygiene and safety standards in comparison to the western world.

China has since implemented a wildlife trading ban across the nation.

There are fears the virus may have originated in bats sold at the market, or had been transferred to other animals for sale by bats.Last week footage emerged across Chinese social media of diners at multiple restaurants feasting on bat soup – a renowned delicacy in parts of China.

However, while Xinhua says the results indicate the virus stems from the sale of wild animals in the market, a paper written by multiple Chinese researchers throws scepticism on suggestion the market is the original source.

A shutter pulled down at the market surrounded by police tape. Source: Getty

According to the paper, published in The Lancet, the first patient became ill on December 1 and had no link to the seafood market, as was the case for 13 of the 41 cases identified by January 12.

Chinese health authorities initially stated the first patient began showing symptoms on December 8.

Infectious disease expert Daniel Lucey at Georgetown University Medical Center believes if the paper’s new data is correct, the first patient must have been infected in November due to the virus’ incubation period – weeks before the flurry of cases linked to the seafood market.

“The virus came into that marketplace before it came out of that marketplace,” Lucey told peer-reviewed academic journal Science Magazine.

Confirmed coronavirus cases soar by 30 per cent

The total number of confirmed cases in China has risen about 30 per cent to 2744, with about half in Hubei province, the capital of which is Wuhan. But some experts suspect the number of infected people is much higher.

Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, is in virtual lockdown and severe limits on movement are in place in several other Chinese cities. Much of Hubei province, home to nearly 60 million people, is under some kind of travel restriction.

There are five deaths outside of Hubei, including one in Hainan, an island province off the nation’s south coast, prompting fears to grow across the nation.

Several cases have been linked to the market. Source: Getty

In the nearby province of Guangxi, Philip, a resident of Liuzhou, 1000km southwest of Wuhan, told Yahoo News Australia residents can’t leave their homes due to the widespread fears, with the city, home to three million people, now a ghost town.

Beijing, the nation’s capital in the northeast, has also confirmed its first death.

The Chinese government is extending the week-long Lunar New Year holiday by three days to February 2, in a bid to slow the spread of the virus. The Lunar New Year is usually a time for travel by millions, but many have had to cancel plans.

Australia confirmed its fifth case on Monday involving a woman on the last flight out of Wuhan to Sydney before China's travel ban.

Australian chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy warned the case won't be the last, with authorities “doing their best” to locate those who came within close proximity to the five infected.

Schools isolate students who visited China

The latest diagnosis came as some schools around the country took action to isolate students who had visited China.

Ten Chinese boarders at Brisbane's Stuartholme are being isolated to their own floor of the boarding house for two weeks and assessed regularly for illness under the advice of Queensland Health, The Australian reported.

Pymble Ladies College in Sydney and Firbank Grammar School in Melbourne advised parents to keep their children at home for at least two weeks if they had visited an affected area in China.

Other private schools requested students who had visited the affected regions in China to provide a doctor's clearance.

NSW Health urged anyone who has been in contact with someone confirmed to have novel coronavirus must avoid attending schools for 14 days.

With AAP

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