COVID-19 origin study points to bats and animal hosts as pathway

Grant Boone
March 30, 2021

Overall, without a definitive conclusion as to how the virus made its way into the human population, the team, which is comprised of worldwide experts, called for "a continued scientific and collaborative approach to be taken towards tracing the origins of COVID-19".

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.

It says the least likely source of the virus was a laboratory leak.

The U.S. has "real concerns about the methodology and the process" of the report, including that the Chinese government "apparently helped to write it", Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN.

The W.H.O.'s findings don't provide a lot of new information but it will give the reasoning behind their hypothesis.

Next steps The experts suggested the virus might have been introduced through imports to Wuhan of meat from wildlife farms in provinces where bats have been shown to carry similar coronaviruses.

"I'd also would like to inquire as to the extent in which the people who were on that group had access directly to the data that they would need to make a determination", he said.

The U.S. government has questioned whether the WHO-convened experts were given enough access to reach a reliable conclusion.

After an extensive visit to the Level 4 laboratory of the Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, some members of the team had already made this point about the possibility of a leak where the outbreak was known.

While the team had looked at the lab incident possibility, "since it was not the key or main focus of the studies it did not receive the same depth or attention as the other hypothesis", Embarek added.

Zhao, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told reporters Monday: "I can not help but ask, when will the as open and transparent as China on the epidemic and origin-tracing issues?"

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The first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.

For instance, more than 40 years of study has still failed to pinpoint the exact species of bat that are the natural reservoir of Ebola.

A spillover from bats via another animal is the most likely scenario in the report, followed by direct spillover.

On the other hand, experts believe that it is not possible to spread the virus through cold chain food products. While it is possible an infected animal contaminated the packaging and was brought to Wuhan which then infected humans, the report said the probability is very low.

Speaking at a virtual press conference after the conclusion of the fourth session of the 13th National People's Congress in Beijing, Li stressed that China will continue to work with the World Health Organization on tracing the origins of COVID-19.

Asked to comment further on its conclusions, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "As I have said all hypotheses are on the table and warrant complete and further studies".

In his closing remarks, Tedros said, "Let me say clearly that as far as World Health Organization is concerned all hypotheses remain on the table".

The pandemic has killed almost 2.8 million people worldwide since it first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, with several countries now battling new waves of infection and being forced to take drastic measures.

"It is clear that that the Chinese government has not provided all the data needed and, until they do, firmer conclusions will be hard", he said in a statement.

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

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