An international team of scientists headed by the World Health Organization concluded on Tuesday that the Covid virus “most likely” started in animals before transferring to humans and dismissed a theory that the disease had been leaked by a lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The comments came at the wrap up of a joint WHO-China mission.
Wuhan, in China’s western Hubei province, is the first place in the world where the virus was detected. Since then, more than 106 million cases and 2.3 million deaths have been reported all over the world. China has strongly rejected the possibility that the Covid virus has leaked from a lab but jumped from an animal to humans.
Scientists have been working in Wuhan for the past four weeks for clues to the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. The WHO team is considering several theories for how the disease first occurred in humans, leading to a pandemic. A theory that the Covid virus was leaked from the labs of the Wuhan Institute of Virology was dismissed by the WHO experts and suggested it likely to originate in animals.
Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, food safety and animal disease specialist of the WHO and chairman of the investigation team, told reporters the “most likely” pathway for Covid was a crossover into humans from an intermediary species. This hypothesis will “require more studies and more specific (and) targeted research,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday.
Dr. Embarek said work to find out the origins of Covid-19 pointed to a “natural reservoir” in bats, but that it was unlikely that this happened in Wuhan.
China’s National Health Commission head of the expert Covid panel, Liang Wannian, said there could have been an unpublished circulation of the coronavirus before it was detected in Wuhan. However, there was no proof of substantial Covid circulation in Wuhan before the late 2019 outbreak.
The WHO team including experts from 10 countries is on a mission that is intended to be an initial step in delving into the origins of the virus. The origins of the coronavirus remain crucial because the virus is constantly spreading, as highly infectious mutant strains discovered in the U.K. and South Africa.