Lab incident hypothesis extremely unlikely to explain introduction of virus to humans: WHO expert
Lab incident ‘extremely unlikely’ pathway for COVID-19 outbreak, further studies needed on animal-human and cold-chain transmission: WHO team leader
Published: Feb 09, 2021 06:44 PM

Peter Ben Embarek (C) and other members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team visit a local community in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei province on February 4, 2021. Photo: VCG

The most likely pathway for the COVID-19 transmission is the virus jumping to humans through an intermediate host, said Peter Ben Embarek, a Swiss food safety scientist leading the WHO team, at a press conference of the WHO-convened Global Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2 China Part held in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province on Tuesday. 

After days of field studies in Wuhan, the joint team is looking at four hypotheses, including direct transmission from animal-to-human, virus jumping to human through an intermediate host, frozen food route-related transmission and lab-related transmission, Ben Embarek said. 

The virus was most likely introduced from an intermediate host to humans. It's also likely that the virus was transmitted from frozen food, he noted. 

"The initial findings suggest the lab incident was extremely unlikely to introduce the virus into the human population," he said. 

The team discussed with managers and staff of many labs, and looked for labs of Wuhan Institute of Virology and found the virus unlikely leaked from these places, the Swiss expert added.

It also completely refutes the conspiracy theory raised by some anti-China hawks, like former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who has been accusing the Wuhan Institute of Virology of leaking the virus. 

Liang Wannian, a member of the WHO-China joint study team, also told the press conference that among all labs in Wuhan, there was no existing virus, indicating no way the virus could be leaked. 

For further studies, the WHO expert said that "we need to conduct more surveys of certain animals that could be reservoirs of the virus, and bats, not only in China." 

And it's necessary to continue discovering initial cases, exploring blood samples, and reports of virus also present in individuals in other places and countries, Ben Embarek noted. 

The WHO team also indentified vendors selling frozen animal products. Some were imported products in the Wuhan Huanan market, and there is a need to continue to follow leads and look at frozen food supply chains. 

Transmissions of coronavirus occurred elsewhere along with the Wuhan Huanan seafood market, but there is no proof of how the virus reached the seafood market, according to the findings of the WHO. 

"It's important to make sure we are not geopolitically bound, as the virus passing from animals to the Huanan market could take a long path involving movement cross borders and travels before reaching the Huanan market," Ben Embarek said.

WHO’s Wuhan tour seeks clues for COVID-19 origins. Graphic: Feng Qingyin/GT