The search continues for the origin of the coronavirus as well as the journey that the deadly virus took to crossover from animals to humans. In less than two years, the pandemic spread like wildfire, infecting 168 million people, killing more than 2.8 million and affecting every human in the world.
But what has the bat got to do with it?
If you really stop to study and gaze into the eyes of a bat, you will see that a bat looks very much like a rat with wings. In fact, bats are the second smallest mammal in the world–after the rodent. And interestingly, bats, which are more manoeuvrable than birds, are the only mammals capable of true and sustained flight.
Direct transmission of viruses between bats and humans is possible. Studies have shown that people who live near bat caves in southern China’s Yunnan Province possess antibodies to bat-related coronaviruses. And although most urban humans generally don’t spend much time around bats, it is not implausible for a virus to pass from bat to human to other humans; especially if they do not possess the natural antibody to protect themselves.
While the world grapples with the unknowable effects of both the virus and the vaccine, the origin story of the virus remains a medical mystery.
On May 27 2021, the US called for the WHO to carry out a second phase of its investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. Just two months prior, Chinese researchers reported that the virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal, and that “introduction through a laboratory incident was considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway”.
The claim that COVID-19 came from a lab in Wuhan was initially dismissed as a conspiracy theory, but it’s a hypothesis that’s been gaining traction in recent weeks. Right now, it seems equally plausible that the virus could have originated in either a lab or in an animal, with health officials continuing to maintain their position that it is more likely that the virus has animal origins.
Coronaviruses exist in nature and can infect many different creatures. SARS-like coronaviruses are found in bats, pigs, cats and even ferrets, to name a few. But finding answers to the precise origin and the domino effect of events that led to the large-scale outbreak of the pandemic is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Uncovering the source of the coronavirus will likely require extensive research and the sampling of animal and human populations—before we can finally trace the evolution of the coronavirus which has left no human untouched.