COVID Jumped From Bats to Animal to Humans: WHO

Joint report with China finds that virus likely didn't originate in a lab
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 29, 2021 10:05 AM CDT
COVID Jumped to Humans From Animals: WHO
In this Feb. 9, 2021, file photo, Marion Koopmans, right, and Peter Ben Embarek, part of a WHO team, arrive for a press conference at the end of their mission in Wuhan.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

A joint China-World Health Organization study on the origins of COVID-19 says that transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and that a lab leak is "extremely unlikely," according to a draft obtained by the AP. The findings offer little new insight into how the virus began to spread around the globe and many questions remain unanswered, though that was expected. But the report did provide more detail on the reasoning behind the researchers' conclusions. The team proposed further research in every area except the lab leak hypothesis. The report's release has been repeatedly delayed, raising questions about whether the Chinese side was trying to skew the conclusions to prevent blame for the pandemic falling on China. A WHO official said late last week that he expected it would be ready for release "in the next few days."

The AP received a copy Monday from a diplomat from a WHO-member country, who said it was the final version. The researchers listed four scenarios in order of likelihood for the emergence of the virus. Topping the list was transmission from bats through another animal, which they said was likely to very likely. They evaluated direct spread from bats to humans as likely, and said spread through "cold-chain" food products was possible but not likely. Bats are known to carry coronaviruses, and the closest relative of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in bats. However, the report says that "the evolutionary distance between these bat viruses and (COVID is) several decades, suggesting a missing link." It said highly similar viruses have been found in pangolins, another kind of mammal, but also noted that mink and cats are susceptible to COVID-19, suggesting they could be carriers. The report is inconclusive on whether the outbreak started at a Wuhan seafood market that had one of the earliest outbreaks in December 2019. More here.

(Read more COVID-19 stories.)

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