ISLAMABAD-Four relatives of the bat species thought to be the original source of the novel coronavirus have been found in Africa.

The previously undiscovered animals are considered to be ‘sister’ species to the horseshoe bat, which is widely believed to be the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which has caused the COVID-19 pandemic. Bats act as reservoirs to coronaviruses and are immune to them but have the ability to spread them.

Researchers say that studying the four new species and the viruses they harbour could help scientists and medics to prepare for any future outbreaks.

In the case of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus jumped from a horseshoe bat in Wuhan and infected an intermediary species, believed to be a pangolin or stray dog, before ending up in humans.

The four ‘sister’ species are called leaf-nosed bats and were identified by scientists using genetic analysis. The specimens were all in a museum but had been collected originally in Africa.

The new bats belong to a group known scientifically as the Hipposideridae, and are also found throughout Asia and Australasia.-