Covid-19 'very likely' first jumped into humans from animals

Tuesday, 30 Mar, 2021

Watch a live broadcast from Geneva, Switzerland, where the World Health Organisation (WHO) is giving a press conference on Tuesday, 30 March, following the publication of the report on the possible origins of the COVID-19 infection.

The report hints at some of the difficulties faced by World Health Organization investigators.

He said a mission briefing would be held between the worldwide experts and the WHO's 194 member states on Tuesday, after which the report would be published on the WHO's website.

Although the team concluded a leak from a Wuhan-area laboratory was the least likely hypothesis for the virus that causes COVID-19, Tedros said, the matter requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions back to China. He said it would be officially presented Tuesday.

During a lengthy press conference in Wuhan on February 9 at the end of the mission, the experts and their Chinese counterparts made clear that they could not yet draw any firm conclusions.

"The epidemiology working group closely examined the possibilities of identifying earlier cases of COVID-19 through studies from surveillance of morbidity (illness) due to respiratory diseases in and around Wuhan in late 2019", it read.

The report from the worldwide mission to the Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in late 2019, has been keenly anticipated ever since the expert team wrapped up and left China more than a month ago.

The team concluded the virus was most likely to have been passed from bats via an "intermediate animal host" to humans before sparking an "explosive outbreak" in Wuhan in December 2019.

The Telegraph reports that the WHO's assessment goes on to say it is "extremely unlikely" that the virus originated from an accident with an infected laboratory staff member.

In the draft obtained by the AP, the researchers listed four scenarios in order of likelihood for the emergence of the new coronavirus.

The report says introduction through cold food products is considered a "possible pathway" and introduction through a laboratory incident was considered to be "an extremely unlikely pathway".

"It supports our current picture of the start of the pandemic", said Joel Wertheim, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, who reviewed part of the report but didn't take part in the research.

Researchers recommend that every theory, with the exception of the lab leak, be further studied.

It dismissed the theory that coronavirus was deliberately engineered or released by a lab. Farmed wildlife were sourced from 10 provinces, including three where related coronaviruses have been found in bats.

The report was written by a group of scientists from World Health Organization following a 27-day trip earlier this year to Wuhan, China, where the first cases of the virus were reported.

For example, the study says highly similar viruses have been found in pangolins, another kind of mammal found in Africa and Asia.

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.

Meanwhile, local officials around the country have tested hundreds of thousands of imported food samples, publishing alerts whenever a sample tests positive for traces of the coronavirus.

Plainclothes security personnel stand outside the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention before the World Health Organization team arrive to make a field visit in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke about the report during an appearance Sunday on CNN television.

The WHO - and Dr Tedros himself - have been criticised for being too close to China so this veiled rebuke will be welcomed by some. A foreign ministry spokesperson said: "The U.S. has been speaking out on the report".

"Transmission within the wider community in December could account for cases not associated with the Huanan market which, together with the presence of early cases not associated with that market, could suggest that the Huanan market was not the original source of the outbreak".