China publishes Beijing Covid-19 genome data, officials suggest a European strain

China's latest cluster of Covid-19 cases is linked to the sprawling wholesale food centre of Xinfadi (pic) in Beijing's southwest. — Reuters pic
China's latest cluster of Covid-19 cases is linked to the sprawling wholesale food centre of Xinfadi (pic) in Beijing's southwest. — Reuters pic

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BEIJING, June 19 — China has released genome sequencing data for the coronavirus responsible for a recent outbreak in Beijing, with officials saying today it identified a European strain based on preliminary studies.

China, which had been under pressure to make the data public sooner rather than later as Covid-19 cases mounted in the country's capital, said it had also submitted the data to the World Health Organisation.

Details published on China's National Microbiology Data Centre website revealed the genome data was based on three samples — two human and one environmental — collected on June 11.

That was the same day Beijing reported its first new local Covid-19 infection in months. In the eight days since, the city has reported a total of 183 cases, linked to the sprawling wholesale food centre of Xinfadi in the city's southwest.

“According to preliminary genomic and epidemiological study results, the virus is from Europe, but it is different from the virus currently spreading in Europe,” Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) official Zhang Yong said in an article published today. “It's older than the virus currently spreading in Europe.”

Zhang said there were several possibilities as to how the virus arrived in China.

“It could have been hidden in imported frozen food products, or it was lurking in some dark and humid environment such as Xinfadi, with the environment not having been disinfected or sterilised,” Zhang wrote in the article posted on the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection's website.

Wu Zunyou, the CDC's chief epidemiology expert, had told state media earlier this week the Beijing strain was similar to Europe's, although not necessarily directly transmitted from European countries. Wu did not elaborate on those comments made before the release of the genome sequence.

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

The first major cluster of new coronavirus infections was traced to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan in December. It has since spread globally, infecting almost 8.5 million people and killing around 450,000. — Reuters

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