Published: Tue, March 30, 2021
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Covid-19 'very likely' first jumped into humans from animals

Covid-19 'very likely' first jumped into humans from animals

The report, drafted by a team of worldwide experts appointed by the World Health Organisation and their Chinese counterparts, comes as dramatic infection spikes in Europe have forced a tightening of unpopular restrictions across the continent. The reported determination is that it is "possible" the virus escaped from a laboratory, but the more likely explanation is that the virus emerged from a zoonotic spillover event where it was transmitted from bats to humans. The WHO is poised to report on its search - but some are skeptical about their conclusions.

MIT Technology Review: "No one can find the animal that gave people Covid-19" - "More than a year after covid-19 began, no food animal has been identified as a reservoir for the pandemic virus".

Already during the Wuhan press conference, the experts had said the lab-leak theory was considered the least likely.

A more likely scenario, the report found, was that the virus had first jumped from bats to another animal, which in turn infected humans.

China has been trying to deflect criticism of its handling of the pandemic amid growing scrutiny over the pathogen's origins, including speculation promoted by the former Trump administration that the SARS-CoV-2 virus leaked from a Wuhan lab.

The U.S. government has questioned whether the WHO-convened experts were given enough access to reach a reliable conclusion.

World Health Organization is scheduled to release the final report on its investigation into the origins of coronavirus on Tuesday, but a draft version of the report obtained by CNN shows there's still no smoking gun and no evidence suggesting the virus was spreading any earlier than the very end of 2019. Topping the list was transmission from bats through another animal, which they said was likely to very likely. The report cited several reasons for all but dismissing that possibility.

Arguments against "There is no record of viruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 in any laboratory before December 2019, or genomes that in combination could provide a SARS-CoV-2 genome", the report said.

The researchers listed four scenarios in order of likelihood.


The WHO did not immediately reply to a query seeking comment, but said the full report by the independent experts would be published on Tuesday at 1400 GMT after member states have been briefed.

It said that such laboratory accidents are rare and the labs in Wuhan working on coronaviruses and vaccines are well-managed.

Bioengineering researchers at Lehigh University have identified a previously unknown interaction between receptors in human cells and the spike, or "S", protein of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The report meanwhile did not rule out transmission through frozen food - Beijing's favored theory - since the virus appears to be able survive at freezing temperatures, saying that "introduction via cold/ food chain products is considered possible".

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.

World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus acknowledged receipt of the report from the independent experts but declined to give details, telling a Geneva news briefing: "All hypotheses are on the table and warrant complete and further studies".

The report said that the cold chain, as it is known, can be a driver of long-distance virus spread, though the risk is lower than through human-to-human spread.

The report is inconclusive on whether the outbreak started at a Wuhan seafood market that had one of the earliest clusters of human cases in December 2019.

The market was an early suspect because some stalls sold a range of animals - and some wondered if they had brought the new virus to Wuhan.

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