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WHO: Virus may have taken 'convoluted path' to Wuhan


WUHAN - A member of the WHO-China joint team studying the origins of COVID-19 said bats remain a likely source and that transmission of the virus via frozen food is a possibility that warrants further investigation.

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At a press conference in China's city Wuhan on Tuesday, Peter Ben Embarek said the team’s work had uncovered new information but had not dramatically changed their picture of the outbreak.

“The possible path from whatever original animal species all the way through to the Huanan market could have taken a very long and convoluted path involving also movements across borders,” Embarek told a nearly three-hour media briefing.

He said work to identify the coronavirus’s origins points to a natural reservoir in bats, but it is unlikely that they were in Wuhan.

 

Huanan market 'may not be site of earliest outbreak'

Wuhan's Huanan seafood market may not have been the site of the earliest COVID-19 outbreak, the team said.

Liang Wannian, a member of the team, said that in retrospect, the first COVID-19 case in Wuhan had no relation to the Huanan seafood market.

"We can't say it was the starting point of the epidemic," he said.

The market drew considerable attention after an early cluster of cases was traced to people working in the market.

Embarek also said the exact role of the Huanan seafood market was unclear.

Embarek noted that while the market was probably a setting where the virus could have easily spread, this is "not the whole story."

"There was also spread among individuals that were not linked to the market," he said, adding that some cases were linked to other markets while some had no links to any markets whatsoever.

 

Lab incident 'extremely unlikely'

Embarek also said laboratory incident is "extremely unlikely" the cause of COVID-19. 

Experts from the team identified four hypotheses for the source of the transmission of the novel coronavirus to the human population, including direct zoonotic spillover, an intermediary host species, the food chain, and a laboratory-related incident, said Embarek.

Initial findings suggest that introduction through an intermediary host species is "the most likely" passway and one that will require further study and more specific targeted research, he said.

"For us it was important to develop a system to evaluate all these hypotheses where we could take a rational approach and look at facts and evidence in a rational way," he added.

Scientists have concluded that it was impossible the virus was man-made, said Liang Wannian, another member of the WHO-China joint study team.

"There was no novel coronavirus in the Wuhan lab at all, so how could the virus leak from the lab?" Liang said. 

 

Tracing COVID-19 origin not bound to any location

The joint study by WHO and Chinese experts in Wuhan will lay the foundation for COVID-19 origin-tracing work globally, Liang said.

The global origin-tracing of COVID-19 will not be bound to any location, Liang added.

Liang also said there is no indication of the transmission of the novel coronavirus before December 2019 in Wuhan.

With inputs from Reuters

Published : February 10, 2021

By : China Daily/ANN