The COVID-19 pandemic might not have originated from a seafood market in Wuhan, China, National Taiwan University College of Public Health professor Tony Chen (陳秀熙) said yesterday.
While many countries are experiencing second waves of COVID-19 infections, many are also lifting lockdowns to revive their economies, allowing travelers to cross national borders, Chen said.
Academics have been questioning whether genetic mutations in the novel coronavirus in different countries have made it more infectious, he added.
Academics from different backgrounds have conducted phylogenetic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences, he said, adding that the studies can help scientists understand how the virus spread among humans, which can benefit vaccine development.
Wuhan’s Seafood Wholesale Market has widely been considered the epicenter of the pandemic, as the first COVID-19 outbreak was linked to unknown pneumonia cases near the market.
However, a study published in the journal Nature in May suggested that there were two major lineages of the virus during the early phase of the outbreak in Wuhan, of which one was linked to the market and the other was not, but was found in confirmed COVID-19 patients in Shanghai, Chen said.
The finding indicates that the seafood market might not be the origin of the pandemic, Chen added.
Citing another genomic epidemiology study conducted in Colombia on 857 imported COVID-19 cases between March and June, he said that a phylogenetic analysis showed that most of the cases were imported from Europe, but the first strain was estimated to have been brought in from Asia on Dec. 7 last year.
According to genome sequencing data of cases in other countries, including Israel, Brazil, the Netherlands and Australia, viral strains that were transmitted from other countries can cause rapid local transmission, and the virus is still mutating, he added.
As many countries are working to develop COVID-19 vaccines, the distribution of vaccines should prioritize countries that can prevent the most deaths, followed by those that can most significantly reduce the virus’ economic, social and health effects, and lastly by those that can stop local transmission of the virus, Chen said.
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