WHO Wuhan Report Suggests Animal Origin for COVID-19 Virus

WHO_Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The origins of COVID-19 continue to be debated in the halls of government, and the findings from a recent investigation conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) are unlikely to change many minds as the world continues to grapple with the pandemic.

This week, a WHO team announced preliminary findings following an investigatory trip to Wuhan, China, that muddies the water about the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. While the investigation upholds the year-long determination that the virus was not manufactured in a laboratory and leaked from the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, it does suggest the virus could have originated outside of Wuhan, where the original outbreak occurred. That has been a theory heavily promoted by the Chinese government. During the WHO press conference in Wuhan, Chinese officials said virus investigators should look outside of China’s borders for the origins of SARS-Cov-2, the Times reported.

Also, according to the New York Times, the WHO report suggests it is possible the virus might have spread to humans through shipments of frozen food. That theory has had little traction outside of China, the Times notes.

The WHO team spent a total of 12 days in Wuhan, where they conducted their investigation in laboratories, disease-control centers and live-animal markets. In a three-hour conference this week, the team raised different hypotheses regarding the origin and spread of the virus. Animal to human transmission remains the primary hypothesis, but the team did not wholly rule out the frozen food scenario.

The WHO’s Peter Ben Embarek said the team’s initial findings from the research trip suggest the most likely pathway for the spread of the virus was through an intermediary host species, meaning the virus began in one animal, moved to a second before jumping to humans, CNN reported. The WHO team suggested the virus most likely emerged in bats and then spread to human through another small mammal. However, what that mammal may be is unknown. Embarek said that will require more study.

“All the work that has been done on the virus and trying to identify its origin continue to point toward a natural reservoir,” he said during the presentation in China.

Regarding the speculations the virus was man-made, Embarek said that was “extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus to the human population.”

As the Times noted, the initial findings from the WHO report is something of a public relations win for the communist nation that has been under fire for failing to control the outbreak, as well as attempts to conceal information from the world. The U.S. government has certainly raised questions about how thorough a WHO investigation in China could be. In its report, the Times said some western governments, including the U.S. government, have suggested China could limit the scope of a WHO investigation in order to control the outcome as part of an effort to prevent the release of anything embarrassing.

Ned Price, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said the government will need to take time to process the WHO findings and will also use its own sources to verify.

“Broadly speaking, we have expressed our concerns regarding the need for full transparency and access from China and the WHO – access from China and the WHO to all information regarding the earliest days of the pandemic. It’s imperative that the world learns as much as possible about the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic so that we can understand its origins and so, importantly, we can prevent future biological catastrophes,” Price said, according to a transcript of his briefing. “The WHO is leading this investigation. We clearly support this investigation. We recognize there is an urgent need for an investigation. But I wouldn’t want to be conclusive yet about any sort of cooperation that the WHO may or may not have received from China.”

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