World Health Organization report on COVID-19 origin inconclusive, calls for further studies

Director General of the World Health Organization

Science's COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation. "The possible intermediate host of SARS-CoV-2 remains elusive", the report reads.

It was not clear whether the report might still be changed prior to its release.

A joint study by the World Health Organization and China on the origins of the coronavirus said that the infection was most likely transmitted from bats to humans through another animal, AP reported on Tuesday, citing a draft copy of the research. The report does, however, lay out plenty of next steps.

The final report of an global expert mission to the Chinese city where the first Covid-19 outbreak happened in late 2019 says the coronavirus causing the disease most likely had a zoonotic origin, according to news agencies citing leaked copies of the report.

As a part of global scientific research on the origin of the novel coronavirus, Chinese experts and World Health Organization experts worked together in Wuhan from January 14 to February 10.

The city where the virus first emerged is home to China's foremost zoonotic disease research centre, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and rumours the virus escaped from here have circulated since the start of the pandemic. Virus could have come from farms, not marketsThe WHO report addressed the possibility that the virus was introduced to humans through the food chain. Researchers said that the labs had high safety levels, and there were no reports of respiratory illnesses among staff members, Reuters reported. But he said most scientists agree that bats are the most likely source. "They destroyed evidence? They punished scientists who were trying to give evidence on this very question of the origin?".

The report, drafted by a team of worldwide experts appointed by the World Health Organisation and their Chinese counterparts, comes as dramatic infection spikes in Europe have forced a tightening of unpopular restrictions across the continent. Due to the Chinese government's secrecy, even the Biden White House said it could not rule out the possibility of COVID-19 having leaked from the Wuhan Animal Lab.

"The scenario, including introduction through an intermediary host, was considered to be likely to very likely", it said.

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.

Spillover via frozen meat from an infected animal, a route the team labeled as "possible". Daszak also said it wasn't the WHO's job to determine whether the Chinese government covered up details about the pandemic's origins.

SARS-CoV-2 has been found on the outer package of imported frozen products, suggesting the virus can persist on contaminated frozen products.

The report says this is "extremely unlikely". "And in a compromise, you have to respect the other's views". The report further suggests that animals in livestock farms in southeast Asia could be "linked to early human cases" and that further study on these farms is needed.

Dr Ben-Embarek said there was a lot of attention on the investigative team because the "whole world was watching".

The Associated Press published comments from the report earlier.

"The risk of accidental culturing SARS-CoV-2 in the laboratory is extremely low", it added.

"The team reports that the first detected case had symptom onset on the 8th of December, 2019". A second diplomat confirmed getting the report too.

The WHO's investigation into the origins of the virus has been the subject of intense investigation and criticism.

"Although the team has concluded that laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy", he said. The researchers recommended tracing the origin of SARS-CoV-2 worldwide in farmed and wild animals species likely to harbor coronaviruses, such as ferret-badgers, civets, mink and raccoon dogs, especially in areas where little research has been undertaken and where animal viruses are most likely to spill over to people. The earliest known cases of the coronavirus were identified in Wuhan. "Maybe it's short, and this will be done in months or maybe it's long and this will take years".