WHO says coronavirus spread ‘extremely unlikely’ from Wuhan lab

Beijing, Feb 9 (efe-epa).- The head of a team of global scientists from the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday said it was “extremely unlikely” that the coronavirus may have spread from a lab in the central Chinese city of Wuhan where the virus was first detected last year.

Ben Embarek told reporters that the laboratory leak theory “is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus into the humans.”

The team of 13 experts arrived in Wuhan on Jan.14. They began the ground visit in Wuhan two weeks after completing a mandatory 14-day quarantine at a hotel in the city.

The probe was marred by delays and clashes between China and the United States over the origin of the virus.

The investigators visited key places in Wuhan, where the first cases of the virus were reported.

They also spoke to patients and Chinese scientists during their field investigations to hospitals that treated the first Covid-19 patients during the early stages of the pandemic.

After ten days of investigation into the origin of SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan, Embarek said that everything continues to point to the possibility of this virus, or a similar virus, having spread from bats.

He added that since there are no bat colonies in Wuhan and its surrounding areas, they tried to find “other animal species” that may have helped introduce the coronavirus into the city but were unable to identify any specific one.

However, he said that in the market in Wuhan, several frozen goods were sold, many of them “imported”, apart from domesticated wild animals and products derived from them.

The Danish expert underlined that they would need to investigate further along these lines and include frozen, semi processed and crude products.

Moreover, he considered there was no “great evidence” of the transmission of the virus in Wuhan before December 2019 and that the first cases in the city occurred not only in Huanan market, but also “simultaneously” in other places not related to it.

Hence, the experts advocate examining blood samples in other provinces of China as well as other countries, besides bat colonies in different regions of Asia and other parts of the world.

Embarek considered two main hypotheses as the most likely for transmission of the coronavirus to humans: through an intermediate animal host or through some frozen food item from the cold chain.

He insisted on the need for further study and investigation into the matter, especially regarding the cold chain as a source of the transmission.

Liang Wannian, a Chinese health expert, told the reporters at the end of the month-long WHO probe that the virus may have been present in other places before it was found in the Chinese city.

There was not “enough evidence” available that the virus was present in Wuhan before December 2019, Liang said.

In recent months, China has highlighted in recent months the possibility that the virus would have originally arrived in the country through frozen foods, in which it often detects traces of the coronavirus.

Until now, the WHO had said that all hypotheses were “on the table and it is definitely too early to come to a conclusion of exactly where the virus started” either within or outside China. EFE-EPA


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