WHO says ‘almost definitely’ pathway of virus was from animals to people, however investigation nonetheless a ‘work in progress’


Peter Ben Embarek and Marion Koopmans (R) arrive at a press convention to wrap up a go to by a world staff of consultants from the World Well being Group (WHO) within the metropolis of Wuhan in China’s Hefei province on February 9, 2021.

HECTOR RETAMAL | AFP | Getty Photographs

A global staff of scientists led by the World Well being Group mentioned Tuesday that the seek for how the coronavirus was first launched stays a “work in progress,” with additional analysis wanted into how and whether or not the illness circulated in animals earlier than infecting people.

Scientists have been working within the Chinese language metropolis of Wuhan, the place the illness was first recognized, for the previous 4 weeks as a part of their seek for clues to the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The staff of investigators has visited hospitals, laboratories and markets, together with the Huanan Seafood Market, the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Wuhan Heart for Illness Management laboratory.

The go to, which has been shrouded in secrecy, was additionally anticipated to see researchers converse with early responders in addition to a number of the first sufferers. The staff accomplished two weeks of quarantine before beginning to visit local sites.

Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO’s meals security and animal illness specialist and chairman of the investigation staff, mentioned at a press briefing that the “almost definitely” pathway for Covid was a crossover into people from an middleman species. This speculation will “require extra research and extra particular (and) focused analysis,” he mentioned.

The preliminary findings of the investigation didn’t discover proof of huge Covid outbreaks in Wuhan or elsewhere earlier than Dec. 2019. Nonetheless, researchers did discover proof of wider Covid circulation exterior the Huanan Seafood Market that very same month, Ben Embarek mentioned.

He added it was not but potential to pinpoint the animal middleman host for the coronavirus, describing the findings after practically a month of conferences and web site visits as “work in progress.”

“By way of understanding what occurred within the early days of December 2019, did we alter dramatically the image we had beforehand? I do not suppose so,” Ben Embarek mentioned.

“Did we enhance our understanding? Did we add particulars to that story? Completely,” he mentioned.

The WHO has sought to handle expectations of a definitive conclusion to the origins of the Covid pandemic. To place the mission in a broader context, it took greater than a decade to seek out the origins of SARS, whereas the origins of Ebola — first recognized within the Seventies — continues to be not but recognized.

It’s hoped that data of the earliest recognized circumstances of the coronavirus, first detected in Wuhan in late 2019, might assist to determine how the outbreak began and stop comparable pandemics sooner or later.

After considerations about entry and delays in acquiring visas, the World Well being Group-led staff arrived in Wuhan on Jan. 14 to research the origin of the coronavirus alongside Chinese language scientists.

Bats and pangolins

Talking alongside the WHO’s Ben Embarek from the Hilton Optics Valley Resort in Wuhan on Tuesday, Liang Wannian, head of the knowledgeable Covid panel at China’s Nationwide Well being Fee, mentioned ongoing analysis into the origins of the virus should deal with how the virus circulated in animals earlier than infecting people.

Animal hosts have been but to be recognized however bats and pangolins are each potential candidates for transmission, Liang mentioned, however samples from these species weren’t discovered to be “sufficiently comparable” to the Covid virus.

Minks are seen at a farm in Gjol, northern Denmark on October 9, 2020.

HENNING BAGGER | Ritzau Scanpix | AFP by way of Getty Photographs

The excessive susceptibility of minks and cats to the Covid virus signifies there could also be different animals that function reservoirs, Liang continued, however analysis stays inadequate at current.

China’s Nationwide Well being Fee spokesperson mentioned there might have been an unreported circulation of the coronavirus earlier than it was first detected in Wuhan. Nonetheless, Liang mentioned there was no proof of considerable Covid circulation in Wuhan earlier than the late 2019 outbreak.

Worldwide concern

The WHO has beforehand cited genetic sequencing that confirmed the coronavirus had began in bats and sure jumped to a different animal earlier than infecting people.

Most of the folks that had fallen in poor health with the brand new virus in Wuhan, a metropolis with a inhabitants of roughly 11 million, have been reported to have had hyperlinks to the Huanan Seafood Market.

Scientists initially suspected the virus got here from wild animals bought on the seafood market, prompting China to swiftly prohibit public entry to the market firstly of final 12 months.

China’s CDC has since mentioned samples taken from the seafood market recommend it was a spot the place the virus unfold, not the place the outbreak first emerged.

Additional to this, China’s Liang mentioned on Tuesday that Huanan Seafood Market was one of many locations the place the coronavirus first emerged, however he added it was not potential with present proof to find out how the virus was first launched to the seafood market.

Safety personnel stand guard exterior the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan as members of the World Well being Group (WHO) staff investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus make a go to to the institute in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on February 3, 2021.

HECTOR RETAMAL | AFP | Getty Photographs

The origins of the coronavirus stay vital as a result of the virus is continually evolving, as extremely infectious mutant strains recognized within the U.Okay. and South Africa display.

Up to now, greater than 106 million folks have contracted the coronavirus worldwide and it has brought on not less than 2.32 million deaths, in line with information compiled by Johns Hopkins College.

The U.S., by far, has reported the best variety of confirmed Covid circumstances and deaths, with greater than 27 million reported infections and 465,072 fatalities.

China has revealed little data on its analysis into the origins of the coronavirus and there had been widespread worldwide concern about what the researchers in Wuhan can be allowed to see and do as a part of their investigation.

— CNBC’s Evelyn Cheng contributed to this report.