WHO Ends Wuhan Mission, Pinpoints Likely Coronavirus Origins

Experts say it's not likely the virus leaked from a Chinese lab, but jumped from animal to humans
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 9, 2021 6:42 AM CST
WHO: Coronavirus Probably Didn't Leak From Chinese Lab
Peter Ben Embarek, of the World Health Organization team, holds up a chart Tuesday showing pathways of transmission of the virus during a joint press conference held at the end of the WHO mission in Wuhan in China's Hubei province.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The coronavirus is unlikely to have leaked from a Chinese lab and is more likely to have jumped to humans from an animal, a World Health Organization expert said Tuesday. WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Peter Ben Embarek made the assessment at the end of a visit to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where a team of scientists is investigating the possible origins of the coronavirus, per the AP. The first cases were discovered in the city in December 2019. The Wuhan Institute of Virology has collected extensive virus samples, leading to allegations that it may have caused the original outbreak by leaking the virus into the surrounding community. China has strongly rejected that possibility and has promoted other theories that the virus may have originated elsewhere. The team is considering several theories for how the disease first ended up in humans.

"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," 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." Transmission through the trade in frozen products was also a likely possibility, Embarek said. Along with the institute, the WHO team, which includes experts from 10 nations, has visited hospitals, research institutes, a traditional market tied to the outbreak, and other sites on their visit. The visit by the WHO team took months to negotiate after China only agreed to it amid massive international pressure at the World Health Assembly meeting last May. Beijing has continued to deny calls for a strictly independent investigation.

(More coronavirus stories.)

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