World Health Organization report says animals likeliest origin of Covid-19, minimises lab hypothesis

World Health Organization report says animals likeliest origin of Covid-19, minimises lab hypothesis”

In the report - a draft copy of which was obtained by AP and AFP news agencies, experts said that the intermediary host hypothesis was deemed "likely to very likely", while the theory that the virus escaped from a laboratory was seen as "extremely unlikely".

The long-awaited study has been repeatedly delayed since it was commissioned a year ago, prompting doubts about input from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its aim of diverting attention away from the controversial government research laboratory, at one stage implicating the United States military, without evidence, and urging the launch probes into the virus's origins outside of China. It's inconclusive whether the outbreak started at a seafood market there, and researchers have proposed further investigation.

"I expect that in the next few days, that whole process will be completed and we will be able to release it publicly", he said.

The AP received what appeared to be a near-final version on Monday from a Geneva-based diplomat from a WHO-member country.

The report comes as dramatic infection spikes in Europe have forced a tightening of unpopular restrictions across the continent, and amid warnings that the United States could suffer a similar surge if curbs are eased too quickly.

The reported findings match what World Health Organization officials have said in the past about their conclusions following a Jan-Feb visit to China. The research - conducted by a team made up of both worldwide and Chinese experts - was aimed at galvanizing efforts to trace the origin of the virus that touched off the worst pandemic in more than a century, as well as its route of transmission to humans and the possible role of an intermediate animal host.

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A view of the P4 lab inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology is seen after a visit by the World Health Organization team in Wuhan in China's Hubei province on February 3, 2021.

The report did not rule out the hypothesis, privileged by Beijing, of transmission through frozen food, since the virus appears capable of surviving at freezing temperatures and "introduction via cold/food chain products is considered possible".

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'.

The coronavirus pandemic has engulfed the planet, killing more than 2.6 million people and shredding the global economy since the first cases emerged in Wuhan in December 2019.

The WHO mission was aimed at finding clues as to how the virus originally jumped from animals into humans.

The expert team of 10 worldwide investigators, 17 Chinese counterparts and 10 members of other agencies spent four weeks in China in January and February.

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