Earlier on 10 September, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Jalan Besar GRC Josephine Teo posted on Facebook revealing that the residents from Blk 14 Upper Boon Keng Road had bats flying into their homes. She announced that the bats “do not possess any virulent strains of coronavirus”, hoping to reassure the residents that the bats are not “disease carriers”.
However, in a Singaporean lab research paper that was published in August 2019 – before the COVID-19 outbreak was detected, it was shown that bats in Singapore were indeed positive for coronavirus (CoVs).
Titled “Detection and characterization of a novel bat-borne coronavirus in Singapore using multiple molecular approaches“, the paper noted that coronaviruses are a family of viruses within the order of Nidovirales.
“CoVs in general can cause disease in a variety of domestic and wild animals, as well as in humans, whereas alpha- and betacoronaviruses predominantly infect mammals. SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV belong to the genus B etacoronavirus, under the subgenera S arbecovirus and M erbecovirus, respectively . These viruses are genetically distinct.”
To carry out the study, roost surveys were done at 27 locations in Singapore, such as Singapore Zoological Garden, Rifle Range Flyover, East Coast Park, Hougang Block etc. The bat species that were found were the lesser dog-face bat, whiskered bat, cave nectar bat and dusky fruit bat.
Lab results showed that the lesser dog-faced bats were positive for CoV. The paper stated that other than the CoV sequences, no other viral sequences were detected in any other sample.
“The CoV detected in the rectal swab from C. brachyotis (lesser dog-faced bat) is the first reported full-genome sequence of bat CoV found in Singapore.”
It was also stated that the lesser dog-faced bats were the most frequently counted bats during the surveillance and are commonly found in parks.
“In this study, we reported the characterization of the complete genome sequence of a novel coronavirus in Singapore from lesser dog faced bats (C. brachyotis). These bats were the most frequently counted bats during the island-wide surveillance and are commonly found in parks, where their food sources (fruit trees) are widely distributed.”
Suggesting that since the lesser dog-faced bats live closely with humans, it would “inevitably increase” the risk of disease transmission.
“They are well adapted to living closely with humans, which inevitably increases the risk of disease transmission and the emergence of zoonoses.”
The research team had also received support from NParks where the Board’s researchers assisted on the surveillance programme.
Since this particular research concluded that bats in Singapore do possess coronavirus, it contradicts with Mdm Teo’s statement claiming that the bats that flew into the residences at Upper Boon Keng Road did not possess “virulent strains of coronavirus”.
In her Facebook post, she revealed that her GRC contacted NParks to arrange an officer and a “bat research specialist” to visit the affected residents. It raises questions when the same Board had assisted in the study that suggested bats in Singapore are positive for coronavirus, but the “bat research specialist” who visited the residents at Upper Boon Keng Road suggested otherwise.
“We quickly contacted NParks, who arranged for an officer and a bat research specialist to visit the affected residents. They assured our residents that these bats do not possess virulent strains of coronavirus and shared about the important ecological roles of bats as pollinators and in controlling insect populations.”