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WHO finds no link between COVID-19 and bats, dismisses Chinese lab theory

…as investigation faces criticism

Over a year after the first infections from COVID-19 sprouted out of Wuhan city in China, the World Health Organisation has dug up answers to top questions around the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The outcomes of a joint investigation by the global health body, Chinese experts and a few other organisations reveal three key issues: animals other than bats and pangolins could be possible hosts of the virus; no firm conclusion that the outbreak started from Huanan wet market; the outbreak may have predated the middle of December 2019.

It has dismissed the theory that the virus manufactured from a scientific lab in China, stirring criticism from countries.

Contrary to popular findings from targeted studies that coronaviruses most related to SARS-CoV-2 are found in bats and pangolins, none of the viruses identified so far from these animals have sufficient attribute of the SARS-CoV-2, the study found.

However, it leaves suggestions that the high vulnerability of cats and minks to COVID-19 points to a chance that more animals could be potential hosts.

Over 80 000 wildlife, livestock and poultry samples were collected from 31 provinces in China and no positive result was identified for SARS-CoV-2 antibody before and after the COVID-19 outbreak in China.

“The presence of SARS-CoV-2 has not been detected through sampling and testing of bats or of wildlife across China. Through extensive testing of animal products in the Huanan market, no evidence of animal infections was found,” the study states.

The finding distances the Huanan wet market from earlier suspicion of being the original source of the outbreak in China, with further proof that despite running a cold supply chain that links animal products from up to 20 countries, none of the animal products sampled in the market tested positive in this study.

Also, a close study of potential detection of earlier cases of through respiratory diseases in and around Wuhan finds that COVID-19 had no relationship with the diseases occurring in the months before the outbreak of COVID-19.

The conclusion is drawn surveillance data; laboratory confirmations of disease; reports of retail pharmacy purchases for anti-fever, cold, and cough medications; and stored samples of more than 4500 research projects from the second half of 2019 at various hospitals in Wuhan, the rest of Hubei Province, and other provinces.

Sharp rises in illnesses and pneumonia-specific deaths in the third week of 2020 were attributed to the widespread virus transmission among the population of Wuhan by the first week of 2020.

“The sharp rise in death rates that occurred one to two weeks later among the population in the Hubei Province outside Wuhan suggested that the epidemic in Wuhan preceded the spread in the rest of Hubei Province,” explained.

The hunt for the virus’s origin has been clouded by controversy since the start of the pandemic, with China criticized for delaying access to scientists.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday all hypotheses are on the table and warrant complete and further studies.

Ghebreyesus admitted it was too quick to dismiss the theory of a lab leak, with the U.S. and other governments criticized the investigation.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the probe didn’t adequately analyze the possibility of a lab accident before deciding it’s most likely the pathogen spread from bats to humans via another animal. In a briefing to member countries Tuesday, he said he is ready to deploy additional missions involving specialist experts.

“Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation,” Tedros said in a statement.

Afterward, a group of more than a dozen nations issued a joint statement saying the mission’s report “lacked access to complete, original data and samples,” and called for more transparency and timeliness in response to future outbreaks.

The novel coronavirus comes from a group of viruses that originate or spread in bats, and it’s still unclear what animal may have transmitted the disease to humans.

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