Thailand rejects speculation coronavirus emerged at Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market

Photo: Chatuchak Weekend Market / Facebook
Photo: Chatuchak Weekend Market / Facebook

A public health official this afternoon refuted a report suggesting Bangkok’s sprawling Chatuchak Market was the origin of the global pandemic that has ravaged the world for over a year now.

Chawetsan Namwat of the Disease Control Department said Thailand has already looked into and dismissed the possibility in response to a Danish news report that the massive open market could have spawned Sars-Cov-2 amid a WHO inquiry looking at whether it originated in Southeast Asia rather than China.

“The Department of Disease Control has looked into the issue, and we can say that it’s not true,” said Chawetsan, head of the department’s Disease Control and Emergency Health Risks Division. “There is no academic proof that it came from any animal [at the market].”

Chawetsan Namwat
Chawetsan Namwat

Denmark’s Politiken published a Danish-language article Monday questioning whether Chatuchak was indeed “the place that brought the coronavirus to Wuhan.” It cited Danish epidemiologist Thea Kolsen Fischer, who was on a recent WHO fact-finding mission to China that said Southeast Asia could be a source of the virus. 

The WHO team this month complained that its investigation was hampered by China’s refusal to hand over critical data. While its probe did not rule out that the virus could have emerged as believed in Wuhan, Beijing immediately spun its findings as evidence that it didn’t.

When the WHO results were announced earlier this month, Chinese state media began promoting the idea the virus emerged in Southeast Asia. A story in The Global Times quoted another member of the WHO team first suggesting a Thai link.

Before it spawns the next pandemic, should Thailand stamp out the wildlife trade?

“There was a virus from Thailand close to the SARS-CoV-2, and also Japan and Cambodia. Ecohealth Alliance is already starting our work in tracing their origins,” the paper quoted Peter Daszak.

The first known cases of what would later be named COVID-19 were found in the Wuhan Huanan seafood market, with theories that it came from a bat or pangolin.

At Chatuchak, rows of live animals including illicit wildlife are sold in dank quarters mostly out of sight of the thousands of tourists who pack it on weekends for T-shirts, souvenirs and tchotchkes. 

Chawetsan this afternoon said health officials and wildlife officials have been putting preventive measures in place at several animal markets, including Chatuchak.

Politiken reported Fisher’s belief that those exotic animals sold at Chatuchak, including snakes, meerkats, spiders and bats, – the latter of which in China’s Wuhan was initially blamed to be the cause of coronavirus – and was visited by thousands of people from the globe.

Politiken is a daily Copenhagen broadsheet founded in 1884.

Correction: An earlier version of this story cited a tweet by WHO scientist Thea Fischer correcting the Politiken story. She was in fact referring to another publication.


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