New coronavirus closely linked to Sars-Cov-2 discovered in bats in Thailand, experts say

A NEW coronavirus closely linked to Sars-Cov-2 has been discovered in bats living in Thailand, a study has revealed.

The virus is not thought to be able to infect humans, as it is unable to bind to cells in the body, which is how Sars-Cov-2 infects people.

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Published in the Nature Communications journal, the experts have warned “cross-border surveillance is urgently needed” in order to find where the virus originated from.

Sars-Cov-2 shares 91.5 per cent of its genetic code with the virus discovered in the bats in Thailand.

The virus is called RacCS203 and antibodies present in the blood of both infected bats and pangolins were found to be effective at neutralising the infection.

Researchers from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok said that bat-based coronaviruses cannot infect humans – but said that humans could be infected by the virus if a bat first passed it to an intermediate host – such as a pangolin.

The authors theorised that the virus changes shape when it inhibits the pangolin as it is able to create a binding which can then attach to a human host.

In order to garner samples of the virus, the researchers analysed bats in a wildlife sanctuary in Eastern Thailand.

They found a colony of 300 bats (Rhinolophus acuminatus bats) and were able to capture 100 to to get samples from in June 2020.

The experts also tested ten pangolins from February 2020 to July 2020.

The pangolins were from three wildlife checkpoint stations in Central and Southern Thailand.

However it is unknown where the pangolins originated from as they were confiscated from illegal traders and quarantined.

If humans did contract coronavirus from pangolins, it would almost certainly have occurred in the course of illegal trafficking.

Another possible intermediary animal that has been suggested is snakes.

The experts looked at the genomic sequencing of the virus to determine how closely related it was to other coronaviruses already in circulation.

The closest relative to the new virus (RacCS203) was named RmYN02.

The experts found that this was 93.7 per cent identical to Sars-Cov-2.

But the experts highlighted that they do have key differences – mainly in how humans are able to receive the virus.

They said that the spikes of the new virus are different in shape, this the experts say, makes it impossible for them to attach to human hosts.

Professor Martin Hibberd, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said the paper had identified a further bat coronavirus that is linked to the virus causing the current human pandemic.

Prof Hibberd was not directly involved in the study but said the findings from Thailand emphasise the “broad distribution” of virus in bats and how it could relate to the current outbreak.


The research from experts came after the World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday revealed that Covid-19 did not start in a Wuhan lab – backing China’s claims that the virus had originated from elsewhere.

Both suggestions that the virus could have originally crossed to humans at the Huanan Seafood Market, or escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) were thrown out in a lengthy joint press conference.

The WHO's findings appeared to largely back Communist Party protestations that the virus may have originated from outside of its borders and its repeated denials of a lab accident.

The team offered speculative explanations including a possible jump from animals to humans elsewhere, or even that it may have come across borders on frozen food.

The WHO concluded the virus likely jumped to humans from an animal – but now the question is to where this occurred as doubt was cast over the wet market as the source of the original transmission.

The team also admitted the virus could have been circulating in other regions of China "several weeks" before it was identified after an outbreak at the wet market in Wuhan.

Scientists are now keen to learn more about how the virus is evolving in order to stop further transmission.

There are several variants now circulating in the UK and the Department of Health has launched surge testing in several areas in order to detect cases of mutant strains.

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