Since news hit that the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis first began in China, there has been a lot of racist language and even violence used to blame the Asian country for the now pandemic. Just last week President Trump referred to the deadly virus as “Chinese Virus” and defended a White House staffer who referred to it as “Kung Flu.”

Another disturbing example of this is Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who, last week, told reporters that the spread of the virus is because Chinese people “eat bats.”

“China is to blame,” Sen. John Cornyn said Wednesday of the virus, which was first identified in Wuhan, China. “…because the culture where people eat bats and snakes and dogs and things like that, these viruses are transmitted from the animal to the people, and that’s why China has been the source of a lot of these viruses like SARS, like MERS, the swine flu. And now the coronavirus. So I think they have a fundamental problem and I don’t object to geographically identifying where it’s coming from.”

Per a Foreign Policy report, despite a viral video of a Chinese woman eating bat soup causing people to believe she was “patient zero,” health officials, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have debunked this myth. According to Health.com, one new research article in the Virology academic journal believes the virus started in the “wet markets of Wuhan, China, that keep wild animals together and sell them as delicacies or pets. But these markets have been around for generations, so why now?

A CNN report acknowledges that while bats that carry a vast range of viruses and pathogens could be a potential source of the virus, perhaps what’s behind this pandemic is the environmental damage humans have caused for decades.

“The underlying causes of zoonotic spillover from bats or from other wild species have almost always been shown to be human behavior,” Andrew Cunningham, professor of wildlife epidemiology at the Zoological Society of London, explained to CNN. “Human activities are causing this.”

Cunningham says that when the natural habitats of these flying mammals are destroyed, they become stressed, which lowers their immune system, causing the viruses they carry to no longer be suppressed.

“We believe that the impact of stress on bats would be very much as it would be on people,” he said. “It would allow infections to increase and to be excreted—to be shed. You can think of it like if people are stressed and have the cold sore virus, they will get a cold sore. That is the virus being ‘expressed.’ This can happen in bats too.”

From there, the bats shed their viruses, which is only exacerbated in wet markets that can serve as a “terrifying mix of viruses and species,” CNN noted.

Kate Jones, chair of ecology and biodiversity at University College London, agreed with Cunningham, telling CNN that destroying wildlife and having to transport animals more frequently than before is having disastrous consequences.

“We are increasing transport of animals—for medicine, for pets, for food—at a scale that we have never done before,” Jones also told CNN.

“We are also destroying their habitats into landscapes that are more human-dominated. Animals are mixing in weird ways that have never happened before. So in a wet market you are going to have a load of animals in cages on top of each other.”

The CDC has yet to confirm the exact source of the COVID-19 virus.

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