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Coronavirus unlikely to have leaked from China lab: WHO

Coronavirus unlikely to have leaked from China lab: WHO
WUHAN, FEB 9 (AP) | Publish Date: 2/9/2021 1:09:48 PM IST

The coronavirus most likely first appeared in humans after jumping from an animal, a team of international and Chinese scientists looking for the origins of COVID-19 said Tuesday, dismissing as unlikely an alternate theory that virus leaked from a Chinese lab. 

A closely watched visit by World Health Organisation (WHO) experts to Wuhan—the Chinese city where the first coronavirus cases were discovered—did not dramatically change the current understanding of early days of the pandemic, said Peter Ben Embarek, the leader of WHO mission.

But it did “add details to that story,” he said at a news conference as the group wrapped up a nearly four-week visit to the city. 

And it allowed the joint Chinese-WHO team to rule out one theory on the origins of the virus. The Wuhan Institute of Virology collected many virus samples, leading to allegations that it may have been the source of the original outbreak, whether on purpose or accidentally. 

But experts now consider the possibility of such a leak so improbable that it will not be suggested as an avenue of future study, said Embarek, a WHO food safety and animal diseases expert. China had already strongly rejected that possibility and has promoted other theories. Chinese and foreign experts considered several ideas for how the disease first ended up in humans, leading to a pandemic that has now killed more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

Embarek said the initial findings suggest the most likely pathway the virus followed was from a bat to another animal and then to humans, adding that would require further research. 

“The findings suggest that the laboratory incidents hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus to the human population,” he said. The mission was intended to be an initial step in the process of understanding the origins of the virus, which scientists have posited may have passed to humans through a wild animal, such as a pangolin or bamboo rat. Transmission directly from bats to humans or through the trade in frozen food products are also possibilities, Embarek said. 

WHO team’s visit is politically sensitive for Beijing, which is concerned about being blamed for alleged missteps in its early response to the outbreak. An AP investigation has found that Chinese government put limits on research into the outbreak and ordered scientists not to speak to reporters. 


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