A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of COVID-19 determined Tuesday that it’s “extremely unlikely” the virus leaked from a Chinese lab.
The team that visited the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak first emerged at a seafood market in late 2019, said more work is needed to identify the source of the novel virus that has killed 2.3 million people worldwide.
“Our initial findings suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one that will require more studies and more specific targeted research,” WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Peter Ben Embarek said.
“However, the findings suggest that the laboratory incidents hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus to the human population,” he added.
Embarek said that the possibility that the virus was manufactured in a lab, such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology, would not be encouraged as an avenue for further study.
Bats were a probable source of transmission, but it’s unlikely they were in Wuhan, Embarek said.
He said investigators are also looking at the possibility that the virus was transmitted through the sale of frozen animal products.
“So there is the potential to continue to follow this lead and further look at the supply chain and animals that were supplied to the market,” he said.
“We know the virus can survive in conditions that are found in these cold, frozen environments, but we don’t really understand if the virus can transmit to humans,” he added.
China has promoted the idea that the virus can be found on frozen food and repeatedly announced finding traces of the virus on imported packaging.
The Communist government has also vehemently denied the possibility that the pandemic was caused by a lab accident.
Liang Wannian, head of China’s expert panel on the outbreak, doubled down on these claims Tuesday — noting that there was evidence of coronavirus infections “several weeks” before the first detected case.
“This suggests that we cannot rule out that it was circulating in other regions and the circulation was unreported,” he told the briefing.
The WHO mission was initially resisted by China and took months to negotiate following pressure at the World Health Assembly meeting last May — and Beijing has still refused to allow an independent investigation.
The team arrived in Wuhan on Jan. 14 and following two weeks of quarantine, they visited key sites such as hospitals, seafood markets and research facilities.
However, the investigators only went on visits organized by their Chinese hosts and weren’t allowed to have contact with members of the community, due to health concerns.
“It is of course impossible to know what you are not being told, but what I am seeing in China, and what this group is seeing in China, is that what we asked for, we are being allowed to do,” Peter Daszak, a zoologist and animal disease expert, previously said.
The US has criticized China for not being more transparent about the outbreak as well as not permitting access to patients, medical staff and lab workers.
Beijing has in turn accused the US of trying to politicize a scientific mission.
With Post wires