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Chinese researchers have claimed they have found 24 different previously-unknown coronaviruses in bats, as China steps up its campaign to dismiss questions over whether Covid-19 leaked from a lab in Wuhan.
The scientists claim their findings in a small region on Yunnan province, southwestern China, show that there are is a ‘remarkable diversity’ of bat coronaviruses which could spread to humans.
The researchers, from the University of Shandong, said that one novel bat coronavirus found in their sample was genetically very similar to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is causing the current coronavirus pandemic.
But the research comes as China is fighting back against growing scrutiny over whether the virus emerged from a Wuhan lab and did not pass naturally from animals to humans at all.
And a University of Oxford-led study this week raises doubt over the Chinese researcher’s claims.
They found ‘no evidence’ that a single bat or pangolin was kept at the Wuhan wet markets, leading them to conclude that these species – frequently blamed for Covid-19 – ‘were not the likely spillover host at the source of the coronavirus’.
The Chinese researchers had collected samples between May 2019 and November 2020 from bats located in Mengla county, Yunnan province. They tested their feces and urine as well as taking swabs from the bats’ mouths.
‘In total, we assembled 24 novel 341 coronavirus genomes from different bat species, including four SARS-CoV-2 like coronaviruses,’ the researchers wrote in their report, which was published in the journal Cell on Thursday. They found these four viruses in nine of the individual samples.
‘These results clearly demonstrate that viruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 continue to circulate in bat populations, and in some regions might occur at a relatively high frequency,’ the researchers claimed.
They said one of the samples, taken from a horseshoe bat species, was genetically very similar to the SARS-Cov-2 virus and is the second-closest strain to the coronavirus.
‘Our study highlights the remarkable diversity of bat coronaviruses at the local scale, including close relatives of both SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV,’ the researchers said.FOLLOW ME ON SOCIAL MEDIA