China is facing a new threat of Coronavirus outbreak in its capital city, Beijing. After imposing strict lockdown restrictions, canceling flights and closing Xinfadi wholesale market, the new epicenter of the outbreak, Chinese health officials claimed that the novel Coronavirus in Beijing has come from Europe, but it is older than Europe's most recent virus.

According to the website of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), Zhang Yong, assistant director of National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention of the Chinese CDC said that even though the new Coronavirus traced to the Beijing market has come from Europe, it differs as it is older than the current European Coronavirus.

Zhang said most of the samples collected from the Xinfadi market indicate that the virus has been around for some time. As per Zhang, if it had only just arrived in the city for a short period of time, "there may not have been so many positive samples found; however, we need more data before making an informed decision about its origin."

Beijing Coronavirus
Xinfadi wholesale market, Beijing Wikimedia commons

Understanding Beijing Coronavirus Source

The genomic epidemiology, which determines the lifespan of the virus, is still awaited. As per the experts, sequencing the whole genome is required before putting all the different viruses together to see which virus has more mutations. Those with more mutations normally suggest an updated virus, whereas those with fewer mutations closer to the original virus are much older, spreading for a longer period of time compared to recently discovered viruses. However, more mathematical modeling is required before sequencing whole genome.

The director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Gao Fu claimed on Tuesday that the recent outbreak in Beijing probably did not occur in late May or early June, but it may have started spreading a month earlier. "In this specific outbreak, many asymptomatic or mild cases were detected, and that is why the environment has such a large amount of recorded samples," he told Global Times.

The deadly virus will spread more easily in dark moist and polluted environments, which may catch some people unexpectedly. In addition, Gao explained that if the local people at Beijing's wholesale market had been infected, it would have likely been exposed to many people very quickly.

When the virus first emerged in China's Wuhan, in December 2019, researchers had discussed several possibilities related to its transmission. Zang said, for example, the SARS-CoV-2 "may have remained in imported frozen foods, and did not mutate due to frozen environment throughout the entire storage and transportation period, from overseas all the way to China."

As per the Chinese experts, it is also possible that the Coronavirus may have been lurking somewhere in the humid environment which has not been properly disinfected and sterilized, and then suddenly it got exposed to local residents in Beijing. Zhang said, "We hope that through laboratory tests and genome sequence analysis, that we can learn the transmission routes."

China is taking the efforts to set up a nationwide virus monitoring and tracing system based on the viral genome. In this case, in view of the national security, scientists are working to find out how the virus from Europe arrived at the Xinfadi market.

Local news also reported that the Chinese CDC has published the genome data for the Coronavirus behind the latest COVID-19 outbreak and submitted the genome sequencing data for the virus to the World Health Organization, which had previously sought access to the data.

Salmon
Salmon sale in Beijing Market Pixabay

Salmon Panic in China

State media earlier stated that the virus was discovered on chopping boards used for imported salmon at the Beijing market - sparking fears across the supermarkets and restaurants, which rushed to pull salmon off their shelves, while imports from Europe were halted. On Wednesday, a 22-year-old man, known to have occasionally cleaned frozen seafood, had tested positive for the virus in Tianjin, near Beijing. But the CDC China said that it was unlikely that salmon carried the virus.

While there is a speculation about the link between imported salmon and the new outbreak, the Chinese CDC said there was no evidence that salmon was the host or an intermediary. Shi Guoqing, the deputy director of the CDC's emergency response center, told state media that there was no trace of the virus on the salmon before it reached the market, which suggests that the virus was present in the market, rather than in the salmon itself.