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China aware of pandemic risk five years before Wuhan Covid outbreak – ‘Disease incubator’

Experts from the Wuhan Centre of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in China had identified a risk of pandemic at the market linked to the origins of the coronavirus pandemic years before Covid-19 was first registered.

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Virologist Dr Eddie Holmes has recounted the time he visited Wuhan’s Hunan seafood market during an investigative trip to look for new pathogens that could cause a pandemic in China. During the 2014 visit, the market was referred to as the kind of place where a virus could “spillover” from animals to humans.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Dr Holmes said: “The Wuhan CDC took us there, and here’s the key bit, because the discussion was: ‘where could a disease emerge?’

“Well, here’s the place – that’s why I went.

“I’ve been to a few of these markets, but this was a big one – it felt like a disease incubator, exactly the sort of place you would expect a disease to emerge”.

The scientist recalled seeing “crates of wildlife stacked on top of each other.”

Covid latest: Wet market

China aware of pandemic risk five years before Wuhan Covid outbreak (Image: Getty)

One of the species he noticed, raccoon dogs, are known to be prone to carrying Covid-19.

A study published by bioRxiv which has not been peer-reviewed stated that raccoon dogs “are kept for fur production, in particular in China, and were suspected as potential intermediate host for both SARS-CoV6 and SARS-CoV-2.”

It added: “Rapid, high level virus shedding, in combination with minor clinical signs and pathohistological changes, seroconversion and absence of viral adaptation highlight the role of raccoon dogs as a potential intermediate host.

“The results are highly relevant for control strategies and emphasise the risk that raccoon dogs may represent a potential SARS-CoV-2 reservoir.

Covid latest: Coronavirus vs cold and flu

Coronavirus vs cold and flu (Image: Express)

“Our results support the establishment of adequate surveillance and risk mitigation strategies for kept and wild raccoon dogs.”

Dr Holmes said he was unsure whether the CDC had boosted its monitoring practices following his trip.

Since its emergence in 2019, SARS-CoV-2 has spread worldwide and new mutations now pose a bigger threat.

In India, a “double mutation” of the pathogen is said to be “almost certainly playing a part in the very sharp spike in the epidemic in India”.

Public Health England has already detected 73 cases of the Indian mutation in Britain.

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