The origin of COVID-19 and why it matters

August 4, 2020

Co-authors: David M. MorensJoel G. BremanCharles H. CalisherPeter C. DohertyBeatrice H. HahnGerald T. KeuschLaura D. KramerJames W. LeDucThomas P. Monath and Jeffery K. Taubenberger


The COVID-19 pandemic is among the deadliest infectious diseases to have emerged in recent history. As with all past pandemics, the specific mechanism of its emergence in humans remains unknown. Nevertheless, a large body of virologic, epidemiologic, veterinary, and ecologic data establishes that the new virus, SARS-CoV-2, evolved directly or indirectly from a β-coronavirus in the sarbecovirus (SARS-like virus) group that naturally infect bats and pangolins in Asia and Southeast Asia. Scientists have warned for decades that such sarbecoviruses are poised to emerge again and again, identified risk factors, and argued for enhanced pandemic prevention and control efforts. Unfortunately, few such preventive actions were taken resulting in the latest coronavirus emergence detected in late 2019 which quickly spread pandemically. The risk of similar coronavirus outbreaks in the future remains high. In addition to controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, we must undertake vigorous scientific, public health, and societal actions, including significantly increased funding for basic and applied research addressing disease emergence, to prevent this tragic history from repeating itself.

© The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

[open-access] This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


Co-author, Peter C. Doherty, BVSc, MVSc, PhD – Nobel Laureate Professor Department of Microbiology and Immunology University of Melbourne, Australia, faculty member University of Tennessee Health Science Center through the College of Medicine and conducts research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee (USA) is a member of the One Health Initiative Advisory Board (Hon.)


Co-author, Thomas P. Monath, MD, FASTMH – View bio is a co-founder of the One Health Initiative (OHI) team and OHI website