Chinese online host apologises for travel show plug for 'tasty' bats

With the death toll from a coronavirus outbreak racing past 50, a Chinese internet celebrity has apologised for posting a video three years ago promoting bat as a tasty food.

Wang Mengyun, host of an online show about international travel, wrote on her microblog that she was not aware that bats could be a virus carrier when she appeared in the video posted in 2017.

"[I] had no idea during filming that there was such a virus," Wang wrote online on Wednesday. "I realised it only recently."

She said the video was filmed in Palau, an archipelago in the western Pacific, about three years ago, when she and her team were shooting a tourism programme and trying some local dishes, including bat soup.

In the video, Wang and another Chinese woman hold up a cooked bat and smile to camera.

"The bat tastes very fresh, like chicken meat," she says.

In her online post last week Wang said she was "just trying to introduce the life of local people".

"I didn't know that bat is a primary reservoir of viruses ... I really did not check the information or explain its dangerous nature," she said.

The video was taken down but reposted by Chinese internet users after cases of pneumonia-like illness emerged in the city of Wuhan in central China late last year.

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The virus soon spread across the country and overseas, killing 56 people and triggering a fear of contagion.

According to the National Health Commission nearly 2,000 cases of the new coronavirus have been confirmed, with 324 of them in a critical condition.

While health officials and researchers are struggling to determine the origins of the virus, scientists from the elite Chinese Academy of Sciences said on Friday that its genome was 96 per cent identical to a bat coronavirus.

This echoed the findings of David Robertson, a bioinformatics specialist at the University of Glasgow's Centre for Virus Research, and statistician Jiang Xiaowei of Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University, who wrote in a medical discussion forum that new coronavirus' genome data was "most closely related" to three other bat coronaviruses.

The outbreak in Wuhan has also triggered heated discussion on mainland China about banning consumption of exotic animals, which were sold at a wet market thought to be a source of the cases.

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Some internet users said Wang should have been aware of the deadly nature of wild animals, given the suspected exotic species origins of a deadly 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which killed 774 people worldwide.

"[Wang] filmed the video in 2016 but since 2003 Sars we have been warned to say no to wild animal consumption," one Weibo user wrote.

"She said it was [filmed] overseas but what she did was trying to show people that bat was attractively tasted."

This article was first published in South China Morning Post