Fact check: Coronavirus originated in China, not elsewhere, researchers and studies say

This animal, the heavily trafficked pangolin, may be the key in how the new coronavirus spread from animals to humans. USA TODAY

The claim: The coronavirus originated outside China

A piece published by the Centre for Research on Globalization and circulated on social media claims the virus known as COVID-19 originated outside China. 

That March 11 posting makes references to a March 4 post on the same site by the same author that claims the virus "may have originated in the U.S." Titled “A Shocking Update. Did The Virus Originate in the U.S.?” the earlier post makes several questionable claims about the origins of COVID-19 while misrepresenting cited research and media reports.

The central claim of both the March 4 and 11 posts — that COVID-19 may have been brought to China by the U.S. Army — was recently echoed by a Chinese government official on Twitter. The Chinese official's claims were presented without evidence.

Several of the central statements in the March 4 article misrepresent cited research or make unclear assertions. USA TODAY reached out to Larry Romanoff, author of both posts, for clarification on several of the claims made,  but was unable to reach him for comment.

What researchers say: COVID-19 originated in China

The consensus among researchers studying the spread of the virus pinpoints COVID-19’s likely origin to a “wet market,” or live animal market, in Wuhan, China. Though experts have not ruled out the possibility that the pathogen could have been brought to the market by an already infected person, there is no evidence to suggest COVID-19 originated outside the country.

The origin theory for the virus is supplemented by preliminary research into the disease’s genome, as well as the origins of similar diseases. Researchers at the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre published the genome of COVID-19 two weeks after cases were reported in late December 2019. Gene sequencing analysis strongly suggests the virus originated in bats and was transferred to humans through a yet-unidentified intermediary species. In early February, Chinese researchers published work suggesting the intermediary species may have been the pangolin (also called a scaly anteater), though this work has not yet undergone a peer-reviewed study.


The conditions for such interspecies pathogen transfer are ripe in wet markets, which are common in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, resulted from a virus transferring from bats to civet cats and then humans. SARS, discovered in 2003, originated at a wet market similar to the one now suspected to be the origin of COVID-19.

Other claims and theories about the origins of COVID-19, including that the virus was brought to by the U.S. Army during the Military World Games in October in Wuhan, are unsubstantiated and not supported by research into the virus.

Researchers at ETH Zurich released a study in early March that placed the origins of COVID-19 in November at the earliest. Research published by the Scripps Research Institute in February strongly implies that the virus in humans arose naturally through interspecies transfer, putting its origin in late November or early December 2019. Both studies point to the virus’s origin in Hubei province, China.

Our ruling: False

An article circulating on social media claims COVID-19 did not originate in China. We rate this claim FALSE because it is not supported by research. The consensus among experts researching the virus places the beginning of its spread at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China.

Our fact-check sources:

Contributing: Martina Stewart

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/03/16/coronavirus-fact-check-where-did-covid-19-start-experts-say-china/5053783002/

News Related


Trump’s ‘mission accomplished’ moment is premature and deadly. We have not defeated COVID.

Desperate for crowds and adoration, Trump has put his most fervent supporters at risk of getting a deadly disease. Future historians will be astonished. Read more »

NFLPA president JC Tretter says NFL is putting season, players at risk with its coronavirus approach

NFL Players Association president JC Tretter said Tuesday the NFL is putting the 2020 season at risk with its coronavirus approach, calling on the league to better “prioritize player safety.” “Like many other... Read more »

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he tested positive for the coronavirus

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro says he has tested positive for COVID-19 after months of downplaying the virus’ severity. Bolsonaro confirmed the test results while wearing a mask and... Read more »

Venice Film Festival forges ahead amid COVID-19 pandemic with reduced lineup

The show will go on for the Venice Film Festival in September, but with a few modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers said Tuesday that they are pushing forward with plans for... Read more »

Amtrak offers buy-one, get-one promotion on its sleeper trains amid COVID-19 — with a catch

Amtrak wants you to have sweet dreams the next time you travel — so much so that it’s sweetening the deal on its sleeper “roomettes.” The rail service is offering a buy-one-get-one-free discount... Read more »

Florida teen treated with hydroxychloroquine at home before dying of COVID-19, report says

FORT MEYERS, Fla. – The family of a 17-year-old Florida girl who died last month from COVID-19 treated her symptoms at home for nearly a week before taking her to a hospital, a... Read more »

Mookie Betts worried MLB coronavirus testing woes could prevent him from ever playing for Dodgers

During nearly four months away from the game, Mookie Betts said he “stayed away from baseball to keep myself sane.” It’s not hard to understand why. The 2018 American League Most Valuable Player... Read more »

Tom Hanks doesn’t get ‘how common sense has somehow been put into question’ with coronavirus

Read more »

Can Gov. DeSantis force Florida schools to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic? Some school leaders seem doubtful.

PALM BEACH, Fla. — As concern about the state order spread online, some school leaders said: Not so fast. As Florida educators puzzle over how to start the new academic year, Gov. Ron... Read more »

Texas surpasses 200,000 coronavirus cases after 4th of July holiday weekend

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas reached 200,000 total COVID-19 cases Monday, just 17 days after crossing the 100,000 threshold, a figure that took the state nearly four months to hit. The grim milestone came... Read more »