The study confirmed the disease was a new form of coronavirus, which is closest to the SARS-related coronaviruses found in Chinese horseshoe bats. Like the SARS epidemic, which was traced to masked palm civets sold in a wildlife market, the study said the disease was connected to a wet market where game animals and meat were sold.
Wildlife activists and medical experts have long argued that China needs to shut down the trade in endangered and wild animals for game meat, as they represent a potential source of disease.
Microbiologist Yuen, one of the study’s authors, said the wild animal or game meat trade had obviously been rekindled since 2003, something he called “understandable” since changing a country’s food culture is always difficult. But he called for China to regulate its markets better.
“The lesson of this major epidemic is that the life, ecosystem and habitat of wild life must be respected,” he said in an email. “If we infringe into their habitats to the extent of farming and trading them, the viruses of different wild life can come together with genetic exchanges which can lead to jumping from animal into human and spread from human to human.”
“The price of such epidemic is staggering and this should not be allowed to happen again.”
In an accompanying comment in the Lancet, experts called the virus “of global health concern,” adding “we need to be wary of the current outbreak turning into a sustained epidemic or even a pandemic.”