There are more than 200 virus species that are known to infect humans. Not all are dangerous, but some have held the world on edge because of their extremely contagious nature and a high virulence that kills.

The latest to join the ranks of “killers” is the coronavirus, which originated in the last quarter of 2019 in the city of Wuhan, capital of Hubei province in China. This virus and its disease COVID-19 were unknown before this time.

COVID-19 is the official name given to the coronavirus disease of 2019 by the World Health Organization (WHO). COVID-19 is referred to as the novel coronavirus pneumonia or NCP, the term by which this disease is most widely known in the People’s Republic of China.

How and from where did the coronavirus originate?

In late 2019, someone at the now world-famous Huanan seafood market in Wuhan was infected with the virus from an animal. And, thus began the cycle of the COVID 19 (Corona Viral Disease 2019) in humans.

That the novel coronavirus came from Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in China is now an established fact.

That this virus passed on to humans from animals in Wuhan seems established. However, was it from bats or the scaly pangolin or from any other animal is still not established.

Another theory making the rounds is that the descendant of the virus invaded the humans and then mutated into a new form as it jumped from one human to another. For this reason, it is called the novel coronavirus.

Once this virus jumped into the human population, it wasn’t difficult for the virus to reach pandemic proportions. What with thousands of people traveling between countries and continents on a daily basis, it took this very contagious virus just under 90 days to reach pandemic proportions.

On January 27, 2020, within less than a month of the virus’s discovery, the Chinese authorities reported 2835 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus including 81 deaths in mainland China.

Furthermore, 19 confirmed cases were discovered in Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. In addition, 39 cases were identified in far off countries including Thailand, Japan, South Korea, United States, Vietnam, Singapore, Nepal, France, Australia, and Canada. This intercontinental spread of the virus happened due to the virus-carriers traveling from China to these far off lands. In this era of frequent air travel, this is not surprising.

However, one thing is certain; No evidence has been found that the coronavirus is manufactured and it did not originate from a lab for use as a biological weapon.  This new strain is the result of the natural process of evolution.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause serious and mild illnesses. The first known serious illness caused by this virus was the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome ) in the 2003 epidemic in China.

A second outbreak of severe illness caused by this virus was the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic of 2012 in Saudi Arabia.

SARS-CoV was linked with civet cats and the dromedary camels transmit MERS-CoV. Possible animal sources of COVID-19 have not yet been confirmed but according to the World Health Organization (WHO), “the SARS-CoV-2 virus most probably has its ecological reservoir in bats”.

How did it come to humans from the bats? An intermediary host had to be there between the bats and the humans.

Though the coronavirus infects only mammals and birds, a recent study suggested snakes to be the likely intermediate host. This was soon dispelled by chemical studies.

The same chemical studies after further research point to the pangolin as the most likely intermediate host. But, at the same time, they add that additional intermediate hosts could be possible.

This uncertainty is frightening because it raises the probability of future outbreaks, as the virus could still be circulating among the animal population and might again cause an outbreak among humans.

Official declaration

On 31 December 2019, the Chinese Authorities informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of an outbreak in Wuhan by a new strain of the coronavirus. This was later named SARS-CoV-2.

According to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO,

“This virus is not SARS, it’s not MERS, and it’s not influenza. It is a unique virus with unique characteristics.”