7 facts about the origin of the novel coronavirus

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Despite vast amounts of research on the novel coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, little is known about its origins. Indeed, the source of the virus has been hotly debated, with some theories pointing toward a natural origin and others claiming the virus accidentally leaked from a lab.

Here’s what we know about the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

The virus was first reported in Wuhan, China.

Security guards stand in front of the closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the city of Wuhan, where some of the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, in January 2020. (Image credit: NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images)

In late December 2019, health officials issued the first warnings about a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China. Those cases would turn out to be the world’s first reported cases of COVID-19. By early January 2020, researchers had identified a novel coronavirus behind the cases, Live Science previously reported. Later, that virus would be officially named SARS-CoV-2.

It’s closely related to bat coronaviruses, but the animal source is unknown.

A lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros).

A lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros). (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The closest known relative to SARS-CoV-2 is a coronavirus first identified in horseshoe bats in Yunnan province, China, in 2013, according to FactCheck.org. This virus, known as RaTG13, shares 96% of its genome with SARS-CoV-2. However, RaTG13 has certain genetic sequences that mean it could not have jumped directly from bats to people. 

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