Beijing outbreak linked to European strain of coronavirus, officials say after genome released
Genome sequencing was published on Thursday and shared with World Health Organisation
China has released genome sequencing data for the coronavirus responsible for a recent outbreak in Beijing, with officials saying on Friday it identified a European strain based on preliminary studies.
China, which had been under pressure to make the data public sooner rather than later as Covid-19 cases mount in the country's capital, said it had also submitted the data to the World Health Organisation.
The US administration has blamed the Chinese government for not handling the initial outbreak in central China properly and moving too slowly to contain the epidemic, leading to mounting cases and deaths in the United States.
China has rejected that accusation, saying it wasted no time in releasing information about the epidemic including the genome sequence of the initial coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
Coronavirus around the world
In the latest Beijing outbreak, the WHO said on Sunday it had been informed by the Chinese of ongoing investigations into the source of the cluster and the extent of the infections. It requested for the genetic sequences to be released as soon as possible.
The genome sequencing was published late on Thursday, and had also been shared with the WHO and the Global Influenza Data Initiative (GISAID), said the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Virus genome sequencing is a vital and rapidly developing tool in the diagnosis of the disease Covid-19 and in understanding the spread and control of the new coronavirus.
It's older than the virus currently spreading in Europe
Zhang Yong, CDC official
Details published on China's National Microbiology Data Centre website revealed the Beijing genome data was based on three samples – two human and one environmental – collected on June 11.
That was the same day the Chinese capital reported its first new local Covid-19 infection in months. In the eight days since, Beijing has reported a total of 183 cases, linked to the sprawling wholesale food centre of Xinfadi in the city's south-west.
"According to preliminary genomic and epidemiological study results, the virus is from Europe, but it is different from the virus currently spreading in Europe," CDC official Zhang Yong said in an article published on Friday.
"It's older than the virus currently spreading in Europe."
Mr Zhang said there were several possibilities as to how the virus arrived in China.
"It could have been hidden in imported frozen food products, or it was lurking in some dark and humid environment such as Xinfadi, with the environment not having been disinfected or sterilised," Mr Zhang wrote in the article posted on the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection's website.
Wu Zunyou, the CDC's chief epidemiology expert, had told state media earlier this week the Beijing strain was similar to Europe's, although not necessarily directly transmitted from European countries.
The coronavirus strains found in the United States and Russia were mostly from Europe, he added.
The first major cluster of new coronavirus infections was traced to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan in December. It has since spread globally, infecting almost 8.5 million people and killing about 450,000.
On tracing the origins of the strain that hit Beijing, Mr Wu said the virus did not originate from the Chinese capital.
"It must be some people or goods outside of the city that carried it into the [Xinfadi] market," Mr Wu said in an interview with state television aired on Friday.
"It's unclear who, or what kind of goods, had brought the virus into Beijing."
Updated: June 19, 2020 11:30 AM