World Health Organization (WHO) investigators said Tuesday that they would no longer pursue research into whether the coronavirus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China.
Peter Ben Embarek, a food safety and animal diseases expert, announced the decision during a press conference to wrap up a visit by an international team of WHO experts to the city where COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019.
Embarek said there was not enough evidence to support a hypothesis that the virus escaped from a Chinese biosafety laboratory in Wuhan – the Wuhan Institute of Virology – and that the WHO stood by its previous determination that COVID-19 most likely entered the human population through an intermediate animal.
Where did COVID-19 come from? A bat tucked inside a remote Chinese cave
The WHO team has spent several weeks on a fact-finding mission in Wuhan. Experts from 10 nations have visited hospitals, research institutes and a wildlife market tied to the outbreak. However, WHO’s field work and other activities in Wuhan have been closely monitored by Chinese officials and security officers, and Beijing has repeatedly resisted called for a completely independent investigation into the origins of the virus.
“Did we change dramatically the picture we had beforehand? I don’t think so,” said Embarek, a Danish national who spoke on behalf of the WHO delegation in the news conference Tuesday. “Did we improve our understanding? Did we add details to that picture? Absolutely.”
No evidence has emerged to support suggestions that the coronavirus originated from a virology lab in Wuhan.
The theory stems from circumstantial evidence from several disparate sources, including repeated assertions from former President Donald Trump and his political backers, who never cited specific evidence. Speculation also emerged because of the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s proximity to the wildlife market in Wuhan where some of the first cases of the virus were traced.
A number of high-profile commentators have also noted that the Wuhan Institute of Virology is China’s most advanced biosafety lab and is known for its work researching coronaviruses in bats. The institute also attracted attention because of China’s initial unwillingness to share information about some aspects of the outbreak.
Embarek said the WHO team’s work to uncover COVID-19’s origins pointed to a “natural reservoir” in bats. However, he said more work needed to be done because it was unclear whether this was in Wuhan itself. – USAToday