Coronavirus Likely Came From Animal, Not Leaked From Laboratory, WHO Says
Preliminary assessment follows visit by team of experts to Wuhan, China, in search for origin of pandemic
By Jeremy Page, Chao Deng and Drew HinshawUpdated Feb. 9, 2021 4:01 pm ET
WUHAN, China—The virus that causes Covid-19 most likely jumped from one species to another before entering the human population and is highly unlikely to have leaked from a laboratory, a leader of a World Health Organization investigative team said at a press conference here.
In laying out the possibilities for the origin of the pandemic, the WHO team on Tuesday said it was also possible that the virus may have been transmitted to humans through imported frozen food, a theory heavily promoted by Beijing. But the team said the most likely scenario was one in which the virus spilled over naturally from an animal into humans, such as from a bat to a small mammal that then infected a person.
“Did we change dramatically the picture we had beforehand? I don’t think so,” said Peter Ben Embarek, a Danish food-safety expert who spoke on behalf of the WHO delegation. “Did we improve our understanding? Did we add details to that picture? Absolutely.”
The preliminary assessment came during a press conference at the end of a four-week mission, which included two weeks of quarantine, to Wuhan, the original center of the pandemic. It comes more than a year after the virus first began spreading in China and around the globe, killing more than two million people.
WHO: ‘Extremely unlikely’ that coronavirus escaped from Wuhan lab
BY DOMINICK MASTRANGELO – 02/09/21 07:32 AM EST
The novel coronavirus is unlikely to have escaped from a government lab in Wuhan, China, experts with the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Tuesday following an investigation into the virus’s origins.
“Our initial findings suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one that will require more studies and more specific targeted research,” said Peter Ben Embarek, an expert with the WHO food safety and animal diseases division, according to The Associated Press.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology became a target of unfounded theories that the virus had spread across the country after escaping from the facility. Chinese officials have denied those claims and promoted other unproven hypothesis for how the pandemic began.
A team from the WHO arrived in Wuhan on Jan. 14 to investigate the lab in a bid to learn about how the virus may have been created and spread.
“The findings suggest that the laboratory incidents hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus to the human population,” Embarek said.
WHO officials separately said their analysis about the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s role in the pandemic does not dramatically change the picture of the overall outbreak.
Public health experts believe the most likely way the virus was created was via community spread after someone was exposed to the novel coronavirus after contact with an animal at a so-called “wet market” late in 2019.
The coronavirus quickly spread across China and the world over the last year, killing more than 2.3 million people worldwide.