Thu Jul 15th, 2021 at 02:11:52 PM EST
The Origin of COVID-19 and Why It Matters
The COVID-19 pandemic is among the deadliest infectious diseases to have emerged in recent history. As with all past pandemics, the specific mechanism of its emergence in humans remains unknown. Nevertheless, a large body of virologic, epidemiologic, veterinary, and ecologic data establishes that the new virus, SARS-CoV-2, evolved directly or indirectly from a β-coronavirus in the sarbecovirus (SARS-like virus) group that naturally infect bats and pangolins in Asia and Southeast Asia. Scientists have warned for decades that such sarbecoviruses are poised to emerge again and again, identified risk factors, and argued for enhanced pandemic prevention and control efforts. Unfortunately, few such preventive actions were taken resulting in the latest coronavirus emergence detected in late 2019 which quickly spread pandemically. The risk of similar coronavirus outbreaks in the future remains high. In addition to controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, we must undertake vigorous scientific, public health, and societal actions, including significantly increased funding for basic and applied research addressing disease emergence, to prevent this tragic history from repeating itself.
In 2007, scientists studying coronaviruses warned: "The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats... is a time bomb. The possibility of the re-emergence of SARS and other novel viruses... should not be ignored."
Few paid attention following the disappearance of SARS after the initial outbreak in 2002. Now, 18 years later, COVID-19 has emerged as the deadliest respiratory disease pandemic since 1918, when the "Spanish" influenza pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people. We need to understand what happened so that we can prevent it from happening again, and be better prepared to contain similar pandemics at their outsets."