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.
This aerial view shows the P4 laboratory on the campus of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.AFP via Getty Images
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.
World Health Organization and Chinese experts attend a press conference in Wuhan, China, on February 9, 2021.Kyodo
“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.
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.
Peter Ben Embarek, of the World Health Organization team holds up a chart showing pathways of transmission of the virus during a joint press conference held at the end of the WHO mission in Wuhan.AP
However, the investigators only went on visits organized by their Chinese hosts.
“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.
Staff members work in a laboratory in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province.Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images
With Post wires