World Health Organization report says animals likely source of COVID-19, AP reports

Peter Ben Embarek a member of the World Health Organization team tasked with investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic speaks during a news conference at a hotel in Wuhan China in February. | REUTERS

The origins of Covid-19 most likely came from bats, through another animal, and into humans a study between the World Health Organization and China has found.

The Wall Street Journal: "How the WHO's Hunt for Covid's Origins Stumbled in China" - "China resisted global pressure for an investigation it saw as an attempt to assign blame, delayed the probe for months, secured veto rights over participants and insisted its scope encompass other countries as well, the Journal found".

China has been trying to deflect criticism of its handling of the pandemic amid growing scrutiny over the pathogen's origins, including speculation promoted by the former Trump administration that the SARS-CoV-2 virus leaked from a Wuhan lab. And repeated delays in the report's release have raised questions about whether the Chinese side was trying to skew its conclusions.

"We will read the report and discuss, digest its content and next steps with member states", Tedros said.

- Intermediate host animal - This hypothesis, deemed by the experts as a "likely to very likely pathway", argues that the virus first spread from the original host animal, likely a bat, to another intermediate host animal before being passed on to humans.

The hunt for the virus's origin has been shrouded in controversy since the start of the pandemic, with China criticized for delaying access to scientists and both Beijing and Washington pushing alternate theories about how COVID-19 began.

The final report of an worldwide 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.

Already during the Wuhan press conference, the experts had said the lab-leak theory was considered the least likely. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus confirmed that he had received the report.

The Telegraph reports that they obtained a copy of the documents compiled by the WHO's scientific team and sent out to all member nations.

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"The U.S. has been speaking out on the report. By doing this, isn't the U.S. trying to exert political pressure on the members of the World Health Organization expert group?" asked Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian.

During the visit, Chinese officials refused to share some information about early cases, which has led some officials to express their concerns about the findings of the report, according to the Times.

The report said such laboratory accidents are rare, that the labs in Wuhan were well-managed and there is no record of viruses closely related to the coronavirus in any laboratory before December 2019.

The findings align with what researchers said last month at the end of their mission to Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the first COVID-19 cases emerged at the end of 2019, and in their subsequent public comments.

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.

A handful of academic papers have been published, and several withdrawn, arguing SARS-CoV-2 appeared instantly adapted to infecting humans and suggested it may have been engineered in a laboratory studying SARS-CoV-1, responsible for the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic, or the HIV virus.

As the pandemic spread globally, China found samples of the virus on the packaging of frozen food coming into the country and, in some cases, have tracked localized outbreaks to them.

A more likely scenario, the report found, was that the virus had first jumped from bats to another animal, which in turn infected humans.

The report said that the cold chain, as it is known, can be a driver of long-distance virus spread but was skeptical it could have triggered the outbreak.

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