Virus most likely originated from animals: WHO scientist team

Institute of Virology in Wuhan | Photo: CNN

World Health Organisation – An international team of scientists led by the World Health Organization on Tuesday, said that the coronavirus “most likely” originated in animals before spreading to humans thus dismissing the theory that the disease had been leaked by a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

In the meantime, Peter Ben Embarek, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) mission, addressed the allegations that the virus originated from a lab and said it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus leaked from a lab in the city of Wuhan.

Liang Wannian head of the expert Covid-19 panel at China’s National Health Commission during the press conference, said that the temporary results of the research carried out by WHO along with the Wuhan scientists revealed that the likely origin of the virus was from animals.

Scientists have been working in Wuhan, where the disease was identified, for the past four weeks as part of their search for clues to the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. The long-awaited probe comes after months of negotiations between China and WHO about the arrangements of the investigation. The delay raises questions about the reliability of the findings.

The investigators have visited hospitals, laboratories and markets, including the Huanan Seafood Market, the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Wuhan Center for Disease Control laboratory. The visit, which has been shrouded in secrecy, was also expected to see researchers speak with early responders as well as some of the first patients. WHO revealed that the team completed two weeks of quarantine before beginning to visit local sites.

Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO’s food safety and animal disease specialist and chairman of the investigation team, told reporters that the most likely pathway for Covid-19 was a crossover into humans from an intermediary species. He added that this hypothesis would require more studies and more specific and targeted researches as well. He added it was not yet possible to pinpoint the animal intermediary host for the coronavirus, describing the findings after nearly a month of meetings and site visits as a work in progress.

The WHO has sought to manage expectations of a definitive conclusion to the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. To put the mission in a broader context, it took more than a decade to find the origins of SARS, while the origins of Ebola, first identified in the 1970s is still not yet known. WHO said that it is hoped that information of the earliest known cases of the coronavirus, first detected in Wuhan in late 2019, could help to identify how the outbreak started and prevent future pandemics.