New virus in China requires international control effort

People shop for decorations for the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year at a market in Beijing, China

As preparations for the Chinese New Year get under way, fears mount for the jubilant crowds who could potentially be infected by a newly emerged virus.Credit: Wu Hong/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

I applaud Chinese colleagues’ prompt release of the genome sequence of the virus responsible for the mystery respiratory illness in Wuhan in central China (see Nature; 2020). The agent is a previously unknown type of coronavirus that is distantly related to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus. To curb the spread of the virus, its animal reservoir must be quickly identified and human-to-human transmission thoroughly investigated (see also

The authorities have been understandably cautious after the early misidentification of the SARS pathogen in 2003. However, the results of animal testing from a seafood market in Wuhan, where the virus was initially isolated, must be released as soon as possible. The virology community also feels that human-to-human transmission should not be ruled out without compelling evidence.

This information is particularly crucial because tens of millions of people will be travelling — and consuming potentially contaminated animal meat — to celebrate the Chinese New Year on 25 January. The public needs clear instructions and guidance.

Controlling the spread of emerging and re-emerging viruses calls for international efforts. China’s research collaborations and data-sharing must continue — including with the United States, despite other problems with their relations.

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