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WHO: Coronavirus unlikely to emerge from Chinese laboratory

WUHAN, China – The coronavirus most likely reached humans through an animal, a team of Chinese and international scientists trying to determine the origins of COVID-19 said Tuesday, adding that the alternate theory that the virus leaked from a Chinese laboratory is unlikely.

The visit of experts from the World Health Organization to Wuhan – the Chinese city where the first cases of coronavirus were discovered – did not drastically alter the current understanding of the early days of the pandemic, said Peter Ben Embarek, leader of the mission. of the WHO.

However, it “adds details to the story,” he told a press conference after the group concluded its four-week visit to the city.


The trip also allowed the WHO and China mission to explore in greater detail the theory of a laboratory leak – which former US President Donald Trump and his administration officials promoted without presenting evidence – and determine that it was unlikely. The Wuhan Institute of Virology houses many virus samples, sparking accusations that it may have been the source of the original outbreak, either accidentally or deliberately.


Embarek, a WHO expert on food safety and animal diseases, noted that experts now consider the possibility of such a leak so unlikely that it will not be presented as a line of research for further studies. But another member of the team, Danish scientist Thea Koelsen Fischer, told reporters that mission members could not rule out the possibility of more detailed investigations and new leads.

China has firmly rejected the possibility of a laboratory leak and promoted other theories. Chinese and foreign experts have considered different ideas of how the disease reached humans and unleashed a pandemic that to date has claimed the lives of more than 2.3 million people around the world.


Embarek said the initial findings suggest that the virus most likely passed from bat to animal and from there to humans, but added that further investigation would be required.

“The findings suggest that the hypothesis of laboratory incidents is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus to the human population,” he stressed.


Asked why, Embarek said accidental leaks are extremely rare and that the review conducted by the Wuhan institute’s laboratory operations team indicates that it would be very difficult for anything to leave the scene.

He also stressed that there were no reports of this virus in any laboratory before the arrival of the pandemic. Liang Wannian, head of the Chinese mission, also emphasized that point, noting that there were no samples at the Wuhan Institute.


The mission was intended to be an initial step in the process of understanding the origins of the virus, which scientists have postulated may have passed to humans through a wild animal, such as a pangolin or a bamboo rat. Direct transmission from bats to humans or through trade in frozen food products are also possibilities, Embarek said.

The WHO team’s visit is politically sensitive for the Chinese government, which is concerned that it will be blamed for alleged errors in its initial response to the outbreak. An AP investigation has found that the Chinese government put limits on the outbreak investigation and ordered scientists not to speak to journalists.


However, a member of the WHO team, British-born zoologist Peter Daszak, told The Associated Press last week that they enjoyed a higher level of openness than they had anticipated, and that they were granted full access to all locations and staff they requested.

Ben Oakley
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