Scientists trace earliest cases of COVID-19 to market in Wuhan, China

Controversial but still known, Covid 19 has traces in Wuhan City, China. In a recent study involving an international team of 18 researchers confirmed that live animals sold at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market were the likely source of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The scientists linked these cases to bats, foxes and other live mammals infected with the virus sold in the market either for consumption as meat or for their fur.

The finding, published in the July 26, 2022, issue of Science, confirms early reports, later dismissed by senior Chinese officials, that live animals sold at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market were the likely source of the pandemic that has claimed at least 6.4 million lives since it first emerged in China nearly three years ago.


The authors said that the first spread to humans from animals likely occurred in two separate transmission events in the Huanan market in late November 2019.

Co-author Stephen Goldstein claimed that the study was the most compelling and detailed one of what happened in Wuhan in the earliest stages of what would become the COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers said that their analysis showed that the cases were clustered tightly around the Huanan market, whereas later cases were dispersed widely throughout Wuhan – a city of 11 million people. Notably, the researchers found that a striking percentage of early COVID patients with no known connection to the market – meaning they neither worked there nor shopped there – turned out to live near the market. This supports the idea that the market was the epicenter of the epidemic, Worobey said, with vendors getting infected first and setting off a chain of infections among community members in the surrounding area.

 “In a city covering more than 3,000 square miles, the area with the highest probability of containing the home of someone who had one of the earliest COVID-19 cases in the world was an area of a few city blocks, with the Huanan market smack dab inside it,” said Worobey, who heads Uarizona Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

  • The emergence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can likely be traced to one or more of the 10 to 15 stalls in the market that sold live dogs, rats, porcupines, badgers, hares, foxes, hedgehogs, marmots, and Chinese Muntjac (a small deer). Health officials and researchers detected SARS-CoV-2 on animal cages, carts, and drainage grates in these venues.
  • The only areas where the virus was spreading in December 2019 were neighborhoods within a half-mile of the market. Previously, some researchers had suggested that the virus was brought into the market from elsewhere in the city and spread among its patrons. Instead, the new findings strongly suggest that the virus originated in the market via live animal sales, and slowly spread from there into nearby neighborhoods and then the city at large.
  • Two variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus were detected at the market. That suggests both variants originated independently at the market and helps confirm the researchers’ hypothesis that early spread of the infection began there. If the virus originated elsewhere, it’s more likely that only a single variant would have been found.


The Chinese Metropolis of Wuhan shut down Wuhan’s Jiangxia district, home to more than 970,000 people on Wednesday after detecting four asymptomatic Covid cases. Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei province was the first region to impose the world’s first Covid 19 Lockdown. Meanwhile, China has adopted a “zero COVID-19” strategy under which authorities conduct mass testing, declare strict isolation rules and impose local lockdowns.


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