Bats in Thailand have been discovered with a new coronavirus that closely matches the one that causes COVID-19, scientists said.
The newly-identified virus known as RacCS203 was found in the blood of five horseshoe bats kept in an artificial cave at a wildlife sanctuary in eastern Thailand, according to a study Tuesday in Nature Communications.
Researchers led by Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok conducted genomic sequencing on the new virus.
The research determined that it shares 91.5 percent of the genetic code of Sars-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19.
It is also highly similar to another coronavirus known as RmYN02, which is found in bats in Yunnan, China, researchers said.
But researchers said the new virus has differences in its spike protein, which makes it impossible for it to infect human cells.
However, antibodies in the blood of the infected bats and other pangolins were able to neutralize the Sars-CoV-2 virus.
Researchers said the discovery of the infected bats indicates that coronaviruses are more widespread in animals across Asia than previously known — and studying more creatures may uncover the origins of the pandemic.
“We need to do more surveillance in animals,” University of Singapore professor Lin-Fa Wang told the BBC. “In order to find the true origin, the surveillance work needs to go beyond the border of China.”