Coronavirus may have existed for longer than we think, Oxford epidemiologist suggests

Coronavirus may have existed for longer than we think, Oxford epidemiologist suggests
Credit: Belga

Oxford epidemiologist Tom Jefferson believes the new coronavirus may have been around for longer than we think, and may not have originated in China, the Telegraph reported on Sunday.

Rather than originating in Wuhan in December 2019, the virus has been lying dormant, waiting for the ideal circumstances for a breakout, according to Jefferson.

“I think the virus was already here - here meaning everywhere,” Jefferson asserted. “We may be seeing a dormant virus that has been activated by environmental conditions,” he added.

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Indeed, traces of coronavirus from before the end of the year have surfaced around the world, with Spanish virologists finding traces of Covid-19 in waste water in March 2019, Italian scientists reporting evidence of the virus in sewage in mid-December, and experts having found evidence of traces in Brazil in November. Researchers also found traces of the virus in France in December, a month before the country reported its first case.

That viruses emerge when conditions are favourable “also means they can vanish as quickly as they arrive,” the Telegraph reported. “Where did Sars I go? It’s just disappeared,” Jefferson said, adding that “we need to start researching the ecology of the virus, understanding how it originates and mutates.”

Jefferson pointed out an outbreak in the Falkland Islands, a thinly populated area, in February. “Where can that have come from,” he wondered. “There was a cruise ship that went from South Georgia to Buenos Aires, and the passengers were screened and then on day eight (…) they got the first case. Was it in prepared food that was defrosted and activated?”

“Strange things like this happened with Spanish Flu,” according to Jefferson. “The explanation for this could only be that these agents don’t come or go anywhere. They are always here and something ignites them, maybe human density or environmental conditions, and this is what we should be looking for.”

The epidemiologist calls in to question the World Health Organisation’s explanation that the virus is transmitted between people through respiratory droplets and contact routes, a theory, which “these meat-packing clusters and isolated outbreaks don’t fit with.” Rather, “they fit with people who haven’t washed their hands properly,” he said, stating that “there is quite a lot of evidence that huge amounts of the virus were in sewage all over the place, and an increasing amount of evidence there is faecal transmission.”

As of Sunday, there have been 11,125,245 cases of the new coronavirus worldwide, and the virus has killed at least 528,204 people, according to the WHO.

Jason Spinks

The Brussels Times

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