World Health Organization chief says all Covid origins hypotheses 'need further study'

Statues along a street are seen with masks placed on them as a WHO mission visits Wuhan in central China's Hubei province

The release of the report 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.

And predictably, the report has prompted heavy criticism from the USA, with questions once again raised over the access granted to Western experts while in China.

"The U.S. has been speaking out on the report. By doing this, isn't the U.S. trying to exert political pressure on the members of the World Health Organization expert group?" asked Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian.

The report argued there was no record of a virus resembling SARS-CoV-2 in any laboratory before December 2019 and stressed high safety levels at the Wuhan labs. The report cited several reasons for all but dismissing that possibility.

The report, according to The Telegraph, describes laboratory infection accidents as a "rare" event that occurs in facilities subject to negligence, poor management, and limited biosafety.

The WHO did not immediately reply to a query seeking comment, but said the full report by the independent experts would be published on Tuesday at 1400 GMT after member states have been briefed. As noted by the AP, it can take years to determine the exact origin of virus outbreaks. 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 that spread to humans from the packaging of "cold-chain" food products was possible but not likely.

The United States expects the WHO-led investigation to require further study of the virus, perhaps including a return visit to China, a senior USA official told reporters last week.

The closest relative of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in bats, which are known to carry coronaviruses.

Similar viruses have been found in Malayan pangolin, and mink have proven also highly susceptible, it said, adding it could not rule out that minks might be the primary source.

The Telegraph reports that they obtained a copy of the documents compiled by the WHO's scientific team and sent out to all member nations. It wasn't clear whether the report might still be changed prior to its release, the AP said. A second diplomat confirmed getting the report too.

The diplomat did not want to be identified because they were not authorised to release it ahead of publication.

The report is being closely watched by health officials across the world who are seeking answers about the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Covid-19 is thought to have originated from Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China.

Research published previous year in the journal Lancet suggested the market may have merely served to further spread the disease rather than being its source.

The market was an early suspect because some stalls sold a range of animals - and some wondered if they had brought the new virus to Wuhan.

Arguments against "There is no conclusive evidence for foodborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and the probability of a cold-chain contamination with the virus from a reservoir is very low", the report said. Most experts agree with that.

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Arguments for China witnessed some outbreaks related to imported frozen products in 2020. Associated Press writers Maria Cheng in London, Victoria Milko in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the CDC, WHO and local public health departments PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities.