Europe, not China, the main cause for COVID-19 global spread, study shows

HUDDERSFIELD, United Kingdom — Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, China’s role in the origin and spread of the illness has been hotly debated. While a new study finds there’s no doubt the pandemic started in Asia, Europe may have been the actual “super spreader” months ago.

An analysis of 27,000 virus genomes from across the world reveals COVID-19 likely jumped from horseshoe bats to humans in China. From there, European nations acted as the main source of the pandemic’s migrations to other countries and continents.

A team from the University of Huddersfield worked with geneticists from the University of Minho in Portugal to map the dispersal of SARS-CoV-2. Their findings suggest travel restrictions across Britain and the rest of Europe went into effect too late to stop the pandemic from reaching the United States.

The geneticists usually track ancient human migrations using DNA samples. In this case however, the team capitalized on COVID’s genome being very similar to their normal work. With records going back to May, during the original height of the pandemic, the study was able to track infection figures using the largest dataset of virus genomes to date.

Huddersfield’s Prof. Martin Richards says the study is part of the ongoing effort to figure out as much about the coronavirus as possible. The team adds that defining where infections rates skyrocketed will help nations rethink their policies in future emergencies.

“With thousands of lives still at risk,” Dr. Maria Pala adds in a university release. “The need for scientific research is now more crucial than ever.”

The study appears in the journal Microorganisms.