The recent outbreak of coronavirus in Beijing has been reported to be a European strain, according to Chinese officials who have released information about its genome sequence.
Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) official Zhang Yong revealed the early research data in an article published by the country’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
“According to preliminary genomic and epidemiological study results, the virus is from Europe, but is different from the virus currently spreading in Europe,” he said.
“It’s older than the virus currently spreading in Europe.”
China has been under pressure to make data on the recent outbreak public sooner rather than later, following criticism over how it handled the initial emergence of COVID-19 in the central city of Wuhan late last year.
The country said it has also submitted its latest results to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The US government has blamed the Chinese regime for not handling the original coronavirus outbreak properly and moving too slowly to contain the pandemic.
China has rejected that accusation, saying it wasted no time in releasing information about the spread, including the genome sequence of the first outbreak.
Following 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.
The global health body requested the genetic sequences to be released as soon as possible and the genome sequencing was published late on Thursday
It has also been shared with the Global Influenza Data Initiative (GISAID), said the CDC.
Wu Zunyou, the CDC’s chief epidemiology expert, had told state media earlier this week that the Beijing strain was similar to Europe’s, although not necessarily directly transmitted from European countries.
The strains found in the US and Russia were mostly from Europe, he added.
Mr Wu did not elaborate on those comments, made before the genome data release.
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 virus.
Details published on China’s National Microbiology Data Center website revealed that the genome data was based on three samples – two human and one environmental, which were collected on 11 June.
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 southwest, which has since been shut.
On the origins of the strain that hit Beijing, Mr Wu said it did not originate in the capital, saying “some people or goods outside the city” must have brought it into the market.
In a state TV interview aired on Friday, he said: “It must be some people or goods outside of the city that carried it into the (Xinfadi) market. It’s unclear who, or what kind of goods, had brought the virus into Beijing.”
New travel restrictions have been enforced in the Chinese capital since the latest outbreak emerged, and imports of salmon have also been stopped.
The first cluster of coronavirus infections was traced to the Hunan seafood market in Wuhan in December.
It has since infected almost 8.5 million people globally.
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