The World Health Organization’s team investigating the origin of the coronavirus causing COVID-19 announced on Tuesday that it is unlikely that it emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan.
The investigative team, which is a joint effort with China, said that there were no known COVID-19 infections prior to Dec. 2019. The claim contradicts a State Department report issued in January that said the U.S. government had reason to believe that researchers inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill in the fall of 2019, well before the first official identified case of COVID-19 was reported.
According to the State Department, the researchers presented symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.
The WHO delegation and its Chinese cohorts did not completely rule out the possibility of a lab leak, but said there was not enough evidence to justify further investigation into the theory.
“A laboratory incident hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus into the human population and therefore is not a hypothesis that would suggest future studies into our future work into understanding the origin of the virus,” the mission’s lead, Dr. Peter Embarek, said on Tuesday.
The WHO investigation began around a year after the emergence of the first COVID-19 cases, which occurred in Wuhan, China. Chinese Health Commission spokesperson Mi Feng said that the Chinese commission was engaged in “abundant communication” with WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus during the investigation.
Embarek said that lab accidents have happened in the past but that there were no reports of any such accidents in the laboratories located in Wuhan or the region where the virus was studied prior to its outbreak in Dec. 2019.
“There was no publication, no reports of this virus or another virus closely linked to this being worked with in any other laboratory in the world,” Embarek said.
The Daily Caller reports:
But a top Wuhan Institute of Virology researcher, Shi Zhengli, contributed to a February 2020 study that reported that SARS-COV-2 was 96.2% identical to a viral strain that was detected in horseshoe bats from the Yunnan Province.
Shi, known in China as the “bat lady,” told the Scientific American in March that she lost sleep worrying that the virus could have leaked from her lab in Wuhan after she first learned of the outbreak in December 2019.
Embarek said that following interviews with researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the panel found it “very unlikely that anything could escape from such a place.”
The panel will shift its efforts to researching other theories that would explain the emergence of the COVID-19 virus into the human population, including whether it was spread through frozen food products imported into China.