Wuhan Seafood Market Was a 'Victim' of Coronavirus, Says Director of China's CDC

The director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDCP) has said that the wet market where the novel coronavirus was first reported was more like a "victim" of the pathogen.

Many of the first cases of COVID-19 were linked to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, China. However, subsequent research has cast doubt over whether this is where the novel coronavirus originally spilled over into humans.

"At first, we assumed the seafood market might have the virus, but now the market is more like a victim. The novel coronavirus had existed long before," CCDCP director Gao Fu said on Monday, as reported by Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times.

In January, Gao said that the novel coronavirus—SARS-CoV-2—originated in the wildlife solid illegally in the Wuhan market. But now, the director has said samples collected in early January from animals at the market showed no traces of the virus, although the pathogen was detected in some environmental samples, including sewage.

The origin of the virus is still unclear, but Gao said Chinese scientists are currently investigating this issue and that more time is need to resolve the question. While Wuhan was the first place to report the virus, this does not necessarily mean that the outbreak started there.

The evidence to date suggests that the novel coronavirus likely originated in bats, and then crossed, via an intermediate species, into humans. Which species acted as the intermediary and where the first transmission occurred remains a mystery.

Analysis of the first 41 confirmed cases of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 by January 2 found that while 27 could be directly linked to the seafood market, a significant minority had no connection.

The study, published by Chinese researchers in The Lancet in late January, found the earliest recorded case—a patient who became ill on December 1—had no reported link to the market. Furthermore, no "epidemiological link was found between the first patient and later cases."

Gao Fu
Director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention Gao Fu speaks during the State Council Information Office press conference in Beijing on January 22, 2020. NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

This means it is plausible that the virus could have been spreading undetected in humans before it entered the market and infecting a number of people there.

"There's some sort of connection [to the Wuhan market] and there were people exposed to the market that were infected," Michelle Baker, an immunologist at CSIRO, told The Guardian. "These wet markets have been identified as an issue because you do have species interacting."

To date, there have been more than 5.6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, and over 350,000 recorded deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Jeremy Rossman, honorary senior lecturer in virology at the University of Kent, previously told Newsweek there is a chance that future studies may be able to identify the precursor to SARS-CoV-2 in bats and other animals. "However, the exact origins of the virus and its jump into humans may never be conclusively proven," he said.

President Donald Trump and other top U.S. officials have alleged that the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where scientists are studying coronaviruses. However, China has denied this claim and there is no evidence to support it.