'All hypotheses still open' in probe of coronavirus origins, World Health Organization chief says

Grant Boone
February 13, 2021

The theory of a lab experiment gone wrong - a theory voiced by then US President Donald Trump and his secretary of state Mike Pompeo - was "extremely unlikely", the team said, while introducing new avenues of inquiry.

"Some questions have been raised as to whether some hypotheses have been discarded".

"The expert team is still working on its final report and we look forward to receiving both the report and a full briefing", WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a Member States briefing.

Experts said tests were done on tens of thousands of samples from wild, farmed and domestic animals across China - but none of them contained the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

Chinese officials have suggested the virus originated in a wet market in Wuhan where wild animal meat is sold, but have also blamed the USA military and said it originated in another country.

Peter Ben Embarek, who led the team of independent experts in its almost month-long visit to Wuhan, where the outbreak first emerged at a seafood market in late 2019, said the team's work had uncovered new information but had not dramatically changed their picture of the outbreak.

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According to Johns Hopkins University, 108,172,346 COVID-19 cases have been recorded globally and 2,382,336 deaths. However, he cautioned against relaxing restrictions that have helped curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The declines are due to countries implementing control measures more stringently.

While the figures reported by countries to the World Health Organization for the week ending February 8 are still incomplete, the global body said so far about 1.9 million newly confirmed cases were registered worldwide, down from more than 3.2 million the previous week. "We should all be encouraged, but complacency is as unsafe as the virus itself". Tedros urged nations not to let their guard down and relax those measures just yet. "We have always said that this mission would not find all the answers, but it has added important information that takes us closer to understanding the origins of the Covid-19 virus", he said.

"What we know this far is that patients experiencing (a) post-COVID-19 condition could have been hospitalised patients, those in the ICU". "Part of the challenge is that patients with long Covid can have a range of different symptoms that can be persistent or can come and go".

As Covid-19 cases surged in the second wave far beyond the peak experienced in the first wave, health facilities have become overwhelmed.

However, Dutch virologist and World Health Organization team member Marion Koopmans said that species more susceptible to the virus - including bamboo rats, badgers and rabbits - were sold at Wuhan's Huanan market, the site of an early virus cluster, and could be an entry point for trace-back investigations.

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