The Huo-Yan laboratory (Photos: BGI)
A speaker at an official press conference on control of the novel coronavirus pneumonia (NCP) in Hubei Province, epicenter of the outbreak, stated that the new virus belongs to the SARS coronavirus, but later clarified that as "a slip of the tongue" after the claim sparked confusion and controversy on Chinese social media.
Chen Huanchun, professor at Huazhong Agricultural University, claimed on Sunday that "analysis found the novel coronavirus belongs to the SARS coronavirus" when he was comparing the virus causing the two deadly diseases.
The statement caused huge public concern on social media, with netizens questioning the credibility of the research result.
"This is so confusing. There should be more research to conclude that the novel coronavirus belongs to the SARS virus, but this came as an official announcement…" wrote an academic account with 2.3 million followers on Sina Weibo.
The claim was later refuted by Chinese respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan during an interview with China Business Network on Sunday night.
Zhong clarified that the 2019-nCoV is a type of coronavirus that is parallel to the SARS coronavirus. They belong to the same class but are not the same type.
Chen later also corrected his claim to the public, noting that the words were "a slip of the tongue," and the right conclusion should be that the novel coronavirus belongs to SARS-related coronaviruses.
According to Chen, the conclusion was based on research conducted by the Wuhan institute of virology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
"It is important to make the timely clarification to the public that the novel coronavirus does not belong to the SARS virus, as it may cause panic since people have already seen the higher fatality rate of SARS," Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Monday.
"Research is still ongoing to determine the difference between the novel coronavirus and SARS," Yang said. "If the novel coronavirus proves to share a homology with SARS at a standard level, then the new vaccine designated for NCP could be developed based on the SARS vaccine."