- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Communist China has allowed wild animal markets to offer live bats, raccoons, civets and other species, and a series of studies shows the animals are teeming with viruses that threaten humans.

Scientific studies concluded that the 2002 SARS epidemic likely started from coronaviruses in bats that made their way to humans in Guangdong province. Chinese tastes favor raw bats, snakes and other animals that are bought live and slaughtered.

Today, bats are suspected as the source for the devastating coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Officially known as SARS-CoV-2, it was first reported in Wuhan, China, in November or December. Wildlife groups have urged Beijing for years to shut down sales and consumption of these animals.

A 2006 paper by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained how research into SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) brought a better understanding of virus-infested bats.

“The data obtained so far strongly suggest that bats (horseshoe bats in particular) are most likely the reservoir host of SARS-CoV,” the study said. Bat-linked coronaviruses seem to be species-specific, and SARS-like-CoVs discovered so far are exclusively associated with horseshoe bats, it added.

“A positive outcome of these investigations will greatly enhance our understanding of spillover mechanisms, which will in turn facilitate development and implementation of effective prevention strategies,” the study said. “The discovery of SARS-like-CoVs in bats highlights the increasingly recognized importance of bats as reservoirs of emerging viruses.”

The new coronavirus spread quickly within China and then around the world, killing more than 7,000 people, prompting lockdowns in Europe and damaging economies.

Scientists believe the virus spread from a wild animal market in Wuhan. Press reports said the Chinese legislature responded to the crisis on Feb. 24 by banning the buying, selling and eating of wildlife.

On Saturday, the Global Wildlife Conservation tweeted: “Setting the record straight about the #COVID19 #coronavirus is critical to ensure that we permanently close live animal markets across the world. Only in this way can we #stopthespread of similar future pathogens.”

“It is most likely that the evolutionary or ancestral host was a bat,” Chris Walzer, executive director of health at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told the news site Mongabay.com. “What we don’t know is how the virus got into humans and which possible intermediary host it passed through.

“The animals are captured in the wild (or alternatively raised on a so-called wildlife farm) and transported to a market, where they interact with other species from other locations,” Mr. Walzer said. “Here, the animals are confined under stressful conditions, exchanging excrements and thus viruses before being slaughtered on-site. This allows for blood and organs to be exposed and increases the interface to humans.”

Xu Jinguo, who advises the Chinese government, gave an interview to ScienceMag.com in which he urged Beijing to control wild animal markets.

“The virus looks like viruses isolated from bats, but how it was transmitted from bats to people is still a question,” Mr. Xu said in January. “Several groups in China have been working on bat coronaviruses for years.

“The Wuhan market has been closed,” he added. “I have no information about other [markets]. Wild animals carry the risk of exposing people to new viruses. I think we should have more strict regulations and inspections of markets that sell wild animals, especially since the source of the new coronavirus has not been identified and eliminated.”

Instead of taking responsibility for a deadly pandemic, Beijing is lying to the world, the Trump administration says. China is blaming America in a bizarre conspiracy theory that the U.S. Army planted the bug in Wuhan.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a principal Trump administration spokesman in the battle against COVID-19, said Friday that the virus definitely originated in China.

“It absolutely came from Wuhan,” Dr. Fauci said on “Fox and Friends.” “There’s no doubt about that.”

Fred Fleitz, president of the Center for Security Policy, blamed the pandemic on Chinese corruption — and the animal markets.

“Criminal negligence and incompetence by China’s communist regime,” Mr. Fleitz told The Washington Times. “It withheld information about this disease for weeks and refused to cooperate with international health officials.

“Beijing also failed to close its border or limit travel. And the government refused to close the animal wet markets, which are a known source of serious diseases that spread to humans,” he added. “And now this corrupt regime is trying to blame the United States for its criminal negligence and incompetence.” A 2014 on-site study by the Berryman Institute, a pro-animal group at Utah State University, said wildlife markets — some legal, some illegal — teem throughout China.

“Eating wild animals has long been a tradition in southern China,” said the study, which relied on student researchers visiting markets posing as consumers. “The rapid economic growth in China has increased the demand for wild and exotic animals for use as highly valued food.”

Another coronavirus disease, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), also is sourced to bats by way of camels in the Arabian Peninsula, the CDC said.

First noted in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, MERS to date has not been able to sustain widespread human-to-human contagion. Three to four of 10 people who contract the disease die. There have been few U.S. infections.

“Though inter-human spread within health care settings is responsible for the majority of reported MERS-CoV cases, the virus is incapable at present of causing sustained human-to-human transmission,” the CDC said. “Clusters can be readily controlled with implementation of appropriate infection control procedures. Phylogenetic and sequencing data strongly suggest that MERS-CoV originated from bat ancestors.”

More bat-borne pathogens in China are waiting to reach humans.

A March 11 article in Scientific American chronicles the research of Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli, dubbed the “bat woman” for her investigations into zoonotic diseases.

“[Ms. Shi] has identified dozens of deadly SARS-like viruses in bat caves, and she warns there are more out there,” Scientific American said.

During Ms. Shi’s years of research, Chinese authorities continued to let animal traders import wild bats into crowded urban areas.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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