WHO report says animals likely source of COVID-19
A Joint WHO-China study on the origins of COVID-19 says that transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and that a lab leak is “extremely unlikely,” according to a draft copy obtained by The Associated Press.
The report provides more detail on the reasoning behind the researchers’ conclusions. The team proposed further research in every area except the lab leak hypothesis.
The report, which is expected to be made public on Tuesday, is being closely watched since discovering the origins of the virus could help scientists prevent future pandemics.
The report is based largely on a visit by a WHO team of international experts to Wuhan, the Chinese city where COVID-19 was first reported, from mid-January to mid-February.
The researchers listed four scenarios in order of likelihood for the emergence of the coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2. Topping the list was transmission from bats through another animal, which they said was likely to very likely. They evaluated direct spread from bats to humans as likely, and said that spread through cold-chain food products was possible but not likely.
Bats are known to carry coronaviruses and, in fact, the closest relative of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in bats. However, the report says that “the evolutionary distance between these bat viruses and SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be several decades, suggesting a missing link.”
It said highly similar viruses have been found in pangolins, which are another kind of mammal, but also noted that mink and cats are susceptible to the COVID-19 virus, suggesting they could be carriers, too.
The AP received the draft copy on Monday from a Geneva-based diplomat from a WHO-member country.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged that he had received the report over the weekend and said it would be formally presented on Tuesday.
“We will read the report and discuss, digest its content and next steps with member states,” Tedros told a news conference in Geneva. “But as I have said, all hypotheses are on the table and warrant complete and further studies from what I have seen so far.”