World Media

China's latest virus outbreak likely came from Europe

2020 shows a closed market in Beijing amid worries over a resurgence of coronavirus infections

The capital has reported 79 new cases of Covid-19 since last Thursday, according to a report on NPR, which has put the city back under lockdown in an attempt to stem a possible second wave of the outbreak.

China, where the disease first publicly emerged in December previous year, has been cracking down on a fresh outbreak in the capital Beijing.

The Center for Disease Control said it has provided the sequences to the World Health Organization and the GISAID Initiative that helps disseminate such information around the world.

The country's National Health Commission said in a statement that 25 cases of COVID-19 were reported in Beijing, while four of the new cases were imported.

India, with the fourth-highest caseload after the U.S., Brazil and Russian Federation, added more than 2,000 deaths to its tally after Delhi and Maharashtra states included 1,672 previously unreported fatalities.

The world economy has also taken a hit, with the US Labour Department saying another 1.5 million American workers filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the number of people laid off, at least temporarily, by Covid-19 to 45.7 million.

China's capital subsequently cancelled dozens of flights, blocked off entire neighbourhoods around the market, and shut schools as it sought to bring the new outbreak under control, Reuters reported.

The market - the biggest in Beijing and accounting for almost 90 per cent of its fruit and vegetable supplies - was shut last Saturday, while health workers scrambled to collect thousands of samples to be tested.

The city also suspended several bus routes between Beijing and surrounding Hebei province from Friday, on fears of the new outbreak spreading beyond the capital.

A Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) official said the number of cases was expected to fall soon in an outbreak centred on Beijing's main wholesale market.

New cases skyrocketed on Thursday in Oklahoma by 450, double the record-setting number reported two days earlier.

It said the strain had existed longer than the current coronavirus strain circulating in Europe, Chinese virologists inferred.

As China strives to reopen its economy and resume operation, the possibility of small COVID-19 clusters can not be ignored.

Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiology expert at the CDC, had previously said the virus found in Beijing was similar to European strains - although he added this did not mean the virus had been directly imported. Wu did not elaborate on those comments made before the genome data release.

The coronavirus strains found in the United States and Russian Federation were mostly from Europe, he added.

The first cluster of coronavirus infections was traced to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan in December.

Seven people working at one restaurant fell ill after a chef went to Xinfadi to pick up supplies and later infected his colleagues in the dormitory where they all live. 'It must be some people or goods outside of the city that carried it into the market, ' Wu said in a state television interview aired on Friday.

Francois Balloux of University College London wrote on Twitter that - based on the data shared - there had been local transmission for some time before the outbreak was identified.

'Their position in the tree does not allow to confidently assign a geographic origin to the lineage.

"Our understanding is that comprehensive control of fresh foods has been introduced to any goods going into Beijing", he said. They could have originated from essentially anywhere, ' he wrote.