A world-renowned Chinese virologist has warned that bats in China and other South Asian countries are harbouring more Covid-like viruses that can pass onto humans.
Dr Shi Zheng-Li, who is known as the ‘Bat woman’ for her ability to trace coronaviruses in bats, warned other strains of the virus could be found in nature.
Speaking during a webinar on Thursday during a joint session of the National Academy of Medicine and the Veterinary Academy of France, she said bats are thought to be the natural reservoir for Sars-Cov-2 – the novel strain of the virus as we understand it today.
But she said the virus was probably passed on to another animal – known as the intermediate host- before it reached humans, the Guardian reports.
“We should not only search for them in China, but also in south Asian countries,” Dr Shi said about the bats.
Research by Dr Shi -who is credited with pinning down the genetic code of Sars-Cov-2 just days after the first reported case in Wuhan – has found other coronaviruses in regions of southern China.
“We think these viruses have a high risk of interspecies transmission to human,” Dr Shi, who has been studying coronavirus for 16 years, said.
The webinar on Thursday brought together doctors, biologist and virologists to analyse the ins and outs of the spread of Covid-19.
Discussions emerged over how long the strain of the virus may have been circulating in animals or humans before the first case was reported in China in December last year.
Dr Shi said it could have been in either the bats or humans “for a very long time”.
Covid-19 has since its outbreak claimed the deaths of over 1.5 million people, while 66 million have been infected with the virus worldwide.
Dr Shi made the remarks as teams by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Lancet medical journal ready to travel to China to trace the origin of the deadly virus.
It comes as an Associated Press investigation found widespread shortage of testing and the faultiness of tests in China when the pandemic could still be slowed were largely caused by secrecy and cronyism at China’s top control agency.
The news agency previously found that China delayed warning the public about the emergence of the virus and withheld information from the WHO.
“Taken together, these mistakes in January facilitated the virus’ spread through Wuhan and across the world undetected,” the report reads.