According to Chinese scientists, the coronavirus could have spread from bats to humans not directly, but through pangolins. These scaled mammals are considered a delicacy in China, and their scales are used in folk medicine. For this reason, the pangolin species found in the Middle Kingdom is at critical risk of extinction.
Scientists from South China Agricultural University reported that the pangolin may be an indirect host for the Wuhan coronavirus. This means that people probably did not get infected directly from bats, but from these armored mammals, which may have been illegally sold at a market in Wuhan.
“This discovery is of great importance for prevention and control of the origin (of the virus)” – said the scientists. According to China’s Xinhua news agency, the genome sequence of the new pangolin-derived coronavirus strain was 99% identical to that of infected people. This means that pangolins are the “most likely intermediate host”.
However, Dirk Pfeiffer, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Hong Kong, notes that the research is still far from proving that pangolins definitely transmitted the virus. “More definitive conclusions could be drawn by comparing the incidence of the coronavirus between different species based on representative samples, which almost certainly do not exist,” he told Reuters, adding that even then the thesis of human infection through food markets would have to be made.