The team which authored the paper belongs to the department of biotechnology at Panjab University.
A prediction of a Coronavirus-like outbreak was made by Indian scientists in a book published in October 2019.
The research paper containing the prediction itself could have been still older by a year or six months.
This paper predicts the possibility of an outbreak of the kind currently being seen.
The book, Handbook on Biological Warfare Preparedness is a collection of papers on the subject edited by Dr Swaran Jeet Singh Flora and Dr Vidhu Pachauri.
Dr. SJS Flora, now director of National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPER) has done research in the field of prevention of biological and chemical warfare for 38 years.
He has also contributed in the field of heavy metal toxicology.
Dr Vidhu Pachauri is senior research fellow at Defence Research Development Establishment, Gwalior, India.
The paper, 'Next generation agents (synthetic agents): Emerging threats and challenges in detection, protection, and decontamination' forms chapter 12 of the book.
It is authored by Anshul Sharma et al. from the Department of Biotechnology, Panjab University.
Here is the relevant passage from the paper:
From 2002 to 2003, an unknown infectious agent infected 8427 persons in China, of whom 813 died due to unknown cause and lack of appropriate treatment measures. The causal agent was soon identified as a new species of coronavirus named “severe acute respiratory syndrome virus coronavirus (SARS-CoV)” by the World Health Organization. SARS-CoV disappeared in July 2003, as rapidly as it had emerged in 2002.
Bats are natural reservoirs of SARS-CoV and none of the human in vitro culture systems supports viral replication. The possibility of human adaptation of bat SARS-CoV was studied using synthetic SARS-CoV viral cDNA.
And then, the paper goes to make the prediction that should be making the headlines.
It is suspected that SARS-CoV may re-emerge again, and might be even more deadly than the previous form, due to the possibility of cross species transmission of virulent characters to existing repertoire of coronavirus infecting other mammals like civets (Li et al., 2005; Becker et al., 2008).
The authors also fear that replication of the acquired knowledge related to virulent genetic loci and assembly of designer pathogens is possible and might be utilized by bioweaponeers for construction of more deadly viruses and designer pathogens that confer efficient transmission among humans.Anshula Sharma et al, ‘Next generation agents (synthetic agents): Emerging threats and challenges in detection, protection, and decontamination’ in Handbook on Biological Warfare Preparedness, (Ed. S.J.S. Flora & Vidhy Pachauri), Academic Press, [published date:5th October 2019], pp.23-1
In simple terms, this means that the authors suspected that a new coronavirus outbreak was waiting to happen. They also voiced their fears that there could be an intentional programme engineering such a virus.
Of course, the latter is much less probable though not implausible.
The department of bio-tech team at Panjab University needs to be appreciated for envisioning this threat months before. Perhaps this was indeed an outbreak waiting to happen.