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Coronavirus Explainer: Origins Of COVID-19 Is Still A Critical Missing Piece Of The Pandemic Puzzle

Currently, a team from the World Health Organisation (WHO) is in China to initiate modalities for investigating the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic

Scientists Map How Coronavirus Spreads Indoor Via Aerosol
  • WHO team in China to initiate investigations into COVID-19 origins
  • Aim to understand animal hosts for COVID & how it jumped to humans: Dr Ryan
  • WHO’s investigations may help in settling unanswered questions: Experts

New Delhi: After nearly seven months of the world fighting the worst pandemic in 100 years, one of the biggest mysteries that remains unsolved is the origin of the virus itself. It is true that the first reported cases of the Novel Coronavirus came from Wuhan in China and based on the initial cases it was believed that the wet market in Wuhan could be the origin of this outbreak. But there is no scientific evidence yet to link the wet market to the outbreak and more than that there is a complete lack of knowledge of how the virus reached humans. On July 7, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of World Health Organisation (WHO) said,

Over the past few months, there has been a lot of discussion about the origins of COVID-19. All preparations have been finalised and WHO experts will be travelling to China this weekend to prepare scientific plans with their Chinese counterparts for identifying the zoonotic sources of the disease.

Also Read: 6 Months On, A Recap Of How the Coronavirus Pandemic Unfolded

A zoonotic outbreak refers to germs, could be virus, bacteria, parasite or fungi that originate in vertebrate animals and then spread to humans. From influenza pandemic in 1918-19 to HIV, Ebola, Swine Flu, Zika and NIPAH virus outbreaks, it is estimated that 70-80 per cent of all emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases are of zoonotic origins. The current outbreak is a new strain of the coronavirus, variants of which have been known to the scientists as originating from bats.

Also Read: Coronavirus Explainer: 15 COVID-19 Related Terms And What These Mean

For instance, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002, which was caused by SARS-CoV, the predecessor of the current pandemic, also started in China and is believed to be found in bats which then “spilled over” to civet cats, before finding its way into humans. The transition to civet cats possibly happened in a wet market, like the one in Wuhan being suspected to be the epicenter for this particular outbreak. Civet cats were a delicacy in China and sold in wet markets for human consumption. After these animals are found to be the source of SARS, not only was the sale of these banned but many civet cats were culled to control the outbreak. SARS subsided in 2003 after spreading to 26 countries, infecting 8,000 and killing around 800 people. Even in case of the other coronavirus outbreak in 2012, the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome or MERS, the MERS-CoV jumped from bats to humans through an intermediary species which took over a year to be identified.

I’ve personally been on several missions for WHO related to different emerging infections and if I just think back to MERS, for example, it took us more than a year to identify the intermediate hosts, which are the Dromedary camels. But on these types of missions what we do is we listen, we learn, we understand what has been done so far, so that we can work with counterparts and with international partners to lay out what needs to be done in terms of what studies need to be done at the animal-human interface, said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s Technical Lead for COVID-19 during a press briefing.

Also Read: Coronavirus Explained: What Is Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus?

The reason the WHO mission to discover the origin of SARS-CoV-2 assumes importance is because currently the chain of origin and transmission is scientifically known. Bats may have been the primary carriers, once that is established it needs to be scientifically established if the “spill over” happened directly or were there any other species involved before humans got infected. Laying out the objectives of the China mission, Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director of WHO’s Emergencies Programme on July 13 explained that the two member team which had reached China and was undergoing mandatory quarantine as per the Chinese government rules, but this is really the first step in a long-drawn process. He said,

This is a preliminary advance team that’s there to work with the Chinese scientists and others to lay out what the main questions and the approach and the studies that are going to be needed by a much larger international team that will work in collaboration with the Chinese colleagues over the coming weeks and months. The experts will develop the scope and terms of reference for a WHO-led international mission. The mission objective is to advance the understanding of animal hosts for COVID-19 and ascertain how the disease jumped between animals and humans.

Identifying the exact manner in which the disease made the transition from animals to human not only establishes how the pandemic unfolded but is also a critical link to probably control and prevent similar outbreaks in future.

I think it is a really important question to figure out first of all which bat species it came from, but also if there were any other types of intermediate species involved, those are really important questions. Even if it doesn’t help us contain this pandemic it will help us to have more information on how to prevent something like this from happening again. I think it’s also important from a foreign policy perspective at least here in the US because we have seen these conspiracy theories about laboratory origins and suggestions that this virus was engineered, so I think it is really important to do this investigation, says Columbia University virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen.

Putting conspiracy theories to rest conclusively is one crucial aspect of the investigations in the origins of COVID-19, but as Giridhar R Babu, Professor and Head Lifecourse Epidemiology at Public Health Foundation of India lists down, there are still many unanswered questions when it comes to this outbreak that the investigations can throw some light on,

“The virus has a zoonotic source and can spread from animals to humans too. It is similar to SARS related bat coronavirus in the Sarbecovirus group of betacoronaviruses. But critical unanswered questions are –

  • Which characteristics of the virus increase its effectiveness in spreading? And why couldn’t it be contained in the early days?
  • Advanced and detailed understanding of the different strains of the virus and its mutation
  • How about the rate of viral mutation?
  • Why is the infection asymptomatic among the majority?
  • It causes death even among cases who were otherwise healthy. How and why it is happening?
  • Among the survivors, is there a chance for reinfection? And what are the other health consequences in them in the long run?”

Also Read: What Do We Know About The Coronavirus Pandemic

Previous Coronavirus outbreaks originated in bats and spilled over to humans but origins of COVID-19 is still unknown

Coronavirus Explainer: Origins Of COVID-19 Is Still A Critical Missing Piece Of The Pandemic Puzzle

Clearly, a lot of work still remains to be done in understanding the worst pandemic of our lifetime.

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene


Coronavirus has spread to 195 countries. The total confirmed cases worldwide are 24,06,78,961 and 48,98,653 have died; 20,23,40,977 are active cases and 3,34,39,331 have recovered as on October 18, 2021 at 4:17 am.


3,40,81,315 13,596Cases
3,34,39,331 19,582Recovered
4,52,290 166Deaths
In India, there are 3,40,81,315 confirmed cases including 4,52,290 deaths. The number of active cases is 1,89,694 and 3,34,39,331 have recovered as on October 18, 2021 at 2:30 am.

State Details

State Cases Active Recovered Deaths

65,91,697 1,715

32,230 994

64,19,678 2,680

1,39,789 29


48,54,321 7,555

88,186 3,292

47,39,270 10,773

26,865 74


29,83,459 326

9,479 58

29,36,039 380

37,941 4

Tamil Nadu

26,87,092 1,218

14,814 208

26,36,379 1,411

35,899 15

Andhra Pradesh

20,60,472 432

6,034 159

20,40,131 586

14,307 5

Uttar Pradesh

17,10,028 9

119 10

16,87,011 19


West Bengal

15,80,530 624

7,421 24

15,54,132 634

18,977 14


14,39,390 32

320 6

14,13,981 38



10,35,077 443

4,542 68

10,22,250 508

8,285 3


10,05,654 16

183 2

9,91,901 14



9,54,390 2

42 2

9,45,394 4



8,26,290 10

207 6

8,15,997 16


Madhya Pradesh

7,92,684 5

84 12

7,82,077 17



7,71,076 15

123 9

7,60,904 6



7,26,026 5

48 4

7,16,317 1



6,68,955 122

3,924 55

6,61,093 176

3,938 1


6,06,468 205

3,436 46

5,97,082 245

5,950 6


6,02,035 27

227 8

5,85,264 16

16,544 3


3,48,430 7

122 1

3,43,173 8



3,43,756 9

178 1

3,36,181 8


Jammu And Kashmir

3,31,062 95

843 12

3,25,793 107


Himachal Pradesh

2,21,437 131

1,303 5

2,16,414 125

3,720 1


1,77,522 60

604 6

1,73,572 62

3,346 4


1,27,396 52

585 13

1,24,961 64

1,850 1


1,22,737 104

1,422 0

1,19,418 102

1,897 2


1,12,848 249

11,633 1,143

1,00,829 1,389

386 3


84,321 16

104 4

83,401 12



82,953 55

845 32

80,673 86

1,435 1


65,302 3

25 3

64,457 6


Arunachal Pradesh

54,987 7

140 30

54,567 37



31,749 4

174 8

31,184 12



31,611 40

248 12

30,689 28



20,878 2

36 10

20,634 12


Dadra And Nagar Haveli

10,676 1

4 1





0 0



Andaman And Nicobar Islands


9 0



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