The novel coronavirus outbreak took place in December, last year, in the Chinese city of Wuhan, capital of Hubei province. Casting aside the several conspiracy theories, the origin of the disease is traced to a local wet market.

Since its outbreak in late December, the disease has spread to over 150 countries, has infected 532,816 people and killed 24,093, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare it a global pandemic, on March 11. Interestingly, a study by a group of Chinese researchers, entitled Bat Coronavirus in China, published in Viruses journal, exactly a year ago, predicted such an outbreak in China, involving bats.

What did the Chinese study predict?

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Bats, rats, snakes and many animals are still being sold at Indonesia's Tomohon Extreme Market Posts from the Edge/Facebook

The researchers based their study on previous virus outbreaks, viz. the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Swine Acute Diarrhea Syndrome (SADS). According to the study, all three have common characteristics--'they are all highly pathogenic to humans or livestock, their agents originated from bats, and two of them originated in China [SARS and SADS].'

"Thus, it is highly likely that future SARS- or MERS-like coronavirus outbreaks will originate from bats, and there is an increased probability that this will occur in China," the research warned. The SARS outbreak, first reported in the Guangdong province of southern China in 2002, quickly spread to other countries, infected 8,095 and killed 774, registering fatality rate of 10 percent.

MERS first identified in Saudi Arabia, in 2012, quickly spread to 27 countries, infecting 2,249, with fatality rate of 35.5 percent. SADS, identified in China in 2017, caused the death of more than 20,000 piglets.

Bats and coronaviruses

Apart from SARS, MERS, SADS and now Covid-19, several disease outbreaks trace their origin to bats. Prominent among these are--Nipah virus, Hendra virus, Ebola virus and Rabies virus.

The reason why bats serve as hosts to such large number of coronaviruses, is due to two reasons, first, they are the only mammals with the capability of powered flight, which enables them to have a longer range of migration compared to land mammals. And second, they're the second largest order of mammals, accounting for about a fifth of all mammalian species, and are distributed worldwide, according to the study.

Bats and China

China, the most populous country, is also the third largest, in terms of landmass. Its sheer size provides it with diverse climates, and hence the huge diversity, including of bats and bats-borne diseases. Several bat species, which host coronavirus, live in close human proximity. Also, Chinese taste for live slaughtered animals, where bats are considered a delicacy, enhances prospect for virus' transmission.

These factors, increased the possibility for a viral disease outbreak in China. "The challenge is to predict when and where, so that we can try our best to prevent such outbreaks," the study stated.