Pangolin identified as potential link for coronavirus spread

A man holds a pangolin at a wild animal rescue center in Cuc Phuong, outside Hanoi, Vietnam. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 February 2020

Pangolin identified as potential link for coronavirus spread

  • Researchers have long suspected that the virus was passed from an animal to a human at a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan
  • Researchers at the South China Agricultural University have identified the scaly mammal as a potential intermediate host

BEIJING: The endangered pangolin may be the link that facilitated the spread of the novel coronavirus across China, Chinese scientists said Friday.
Researchers have long suspected that the virus, which has now killed more than 630 people and infected some 31,000, was passed from an animal to a human at a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
Researchers at the South China Agricultural University have identified the scaly mammal as a “potential intermediate host,” the university said in a statement, without providing further details.
The new virus is believed to have originated in bats, but researchers have suggested there could have been an “intermediate host” in the transmission to humans.
After testing more than 1,000 samples from wild animals, scientists from the university found the genome sequences of viruses found on pangolins to be 99 percent identical to those on coronavirus patients, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The pangolin is considered the most trafficked animal on the planet and more than one million have been snatched from Asian and African forests in the past decade, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
They are destined for markets in China and Vietnam, where their scales are used in traditional medicine — despite having no medical benefits — and their meat is bought on the black market.
Experts on Friday called for the Chinese scientists to release more data from their research.
Simply reporting the similarity between the genome sequences of viruses is “not sufficient,” said James Wood, a veterinary medicine professor at the University of Cambridge.
Wood said the results could have been caused by “contamination from a highly infected environment.”
“We would need to see all of the genetic data to get a feel for how related the human and pangolin viruses are,” Jonathan Bell, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said.
China in January ordered a temporary ban on the trade in wild animals until the epidemic is under control.
The country has long been accused by conservationists of tolerating a shadowy trade in endangered animals for food or as ingredients in traditional medicines.
A price list that circulated on China’s Internet for a business at the Wuhan market showed a menagerie of animals or animal-based products including live foxes, crocodiles, wolf puppies, giant salamanders, snakes, rats, peacocks, porcupines, camel meat and other game — 112 items in all.
The SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus that killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in 2002-03 also has been traced to wild animals, with scientists saying it likely originated in bats, later reaching humans via civets.
“Working to end the trade in wildlife can help to resolve some of the longer-term risks associated with animal reservoirs of zoonoses,” Wood said, referring to infectious diseases that can be passed between animals and humans.


India says it will ‘peacefully resolve’ border stand-off with China

Updated 28 May 2020

India says it will ‘peacefully resolve’ border stand-off with China

  • Development follows US President’s mediation in the dispute
  • Stand-off began in the first week of May when a scuffle broke out near Pangong Tso Lake

NEW DELHI: After weeks of a border stand-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, New Delhi on Thursday announced it would resolve the matter diplomatically.

“India is engaged with China to peacefully resolve the matter. At the same time we remain firm in our resolve to ensuring India’s sovereignty and national security,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The development follows US President Donald Trump’s mediation in the dispute. In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Trump said, “We have informed both India and China that the United States is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute.”

The stand-off began when a scuffle broke out near Pangong Tso Lake in the first week of May. According to Indian reports, Chinese troops set up dozens of tents on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

A few days later, a Chinese patrol was stopped by Indian guards near the Nathula Pass in the Indian state of Sikkim. A troop build-up in the Ladakh and Sikkim areas followed the incidents. Reports suggested that 10,000 Chinese soldiers were sent to the border.

While New Delhi was still blaming China last week for “hindering” Indian patrols at the border, its Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday that “the two sides have established mechanisms both at military and diplomatic levels to resolve situations which may arise in border areas peacefully through dialogue and continue to remain engaged through these channels.”

Foreign policy experts say that in the absence of any concrete information it is difficult to comment on whether any resolution is actually taking place.

“The whole region of Ladakh is undefined, there is no agreed LAC, in some areas they respect each other’s position, and in some areas they don’t, which is the crux of the problem,” Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli, of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Arab News.

“Geopolitical interests of both countries are at the center of the conflict,” Kondapalli said, “For India Ladakh is linked to its sovereignty. India has so many ongoing projects in that area. For China its ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes not far away from the region and connect to the Gwadar port in Pakistan. Besides, once American troops leave Afghanistan and a new regime takes over Kabul this might have its implications in the region.”

Manoj Kewalramani, of the Bangalore-based think tank The Takshashila Institution, said that from a geopolitical perspective both sides need stability at this time and the current situation on the border is not helping either of them.

“Beijing is facing challenges on many fronts, an economic slowdown, tensions with the US, international anger amid the pandemic, protests in Hong Kong, etc.,” he said. “Likewise, New Delhi’s interests lie in managing the COVID-19 outbreak at home and focusing on reviving the economy.”