Experts say SARS-CoV-2 originated in bats. That’s also how the coronaviruses behind Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) got started.
The first case of novel coronavirus was reported in Wuhan’s open-air wet markets, China in December 2019. In such markets customers buy fresh meat and fish, including animals that are killed on the spot.
Some wet markets sell wild or banned species like cobras, wild boars, and raccoon dogs. Crowded conditions can let viruses from different animals swap genes. Sometimes the virus changes so much it can start to infect and spread among people. Still, the Wuhan market didn’t sell bats at the time of the outbreak. That’s why early suspicion also fell on pangolins which are sold illegally in some markets in China. Some coronaviruses that infect pangolins are similar to SARS-CoV-2.
As SARS-CoV-2 spread both inside and outside China, it infected people who have had no direct contact with animals. The virus has since spread around the globe.