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June 21, 2020

China’s latest virus outbreak might come from Europe: UN

National

June 21, 2020

LONDON: The emergencies chief of the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed Friday that the UN agency received genetic sequences from China involving Beijing’s recent coronavirus outbreak and said it appears the virus was exported from Europe, foreign media reported.

At a press briefing, Dr Michael Ryan noted that “strains and viruses have moved around the world” throughout the virus pandemic and said the fact that a virus from Europe sparked China’s latest outbreak did not mean the virus originated there.

“What it’s saying most likely is that the disease was probably imported from outside Beijing at some point,” Ryan said, adding that “establishing when that happened and how long the chain of transmission is, is important.” He said that many coronavirus strains spreading in New York could also be linked to Europe.

Ryan said that analysis of the genetic sequences China provided so far suggests that the virus spread from other people — and does not suggest that it jumped to humans from animals.

After the new coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December, officials hypothesised that it likely jumped into people from animals at a wildlife market, although the species responsible has never been identified.

“This coronavirus (in China’s latest outbreak) looks very much like it’s of human origin,” Ryan said, calling for a detailed investigation to determine how the imported cases sparked such a large cluster.

To date, Chinese officials have identified 158 cases in Beijing in the past week. Most, if not all, have been linked to the city’s largest wholesale food market, where thousands of people work.

Ryan said it was essential to understand how the virus spread so quickly and what conditions in the market — included crowded workers, air conditioning and the presence of water — may have helped.

“The environment itself may have facilitated the spread of disease, at least initially,” he said. “That’s we’ve seen that in meatpacking plants,” he said. “We’ve seen that all over the world. So what is it about this environment that allows the disease to amplify that setting?”