A World Health Organisation (WHO) draft report says that coronavirus may have come to humans through an animal, not a laboratory leak, and likely started spreading no more than a month or two before it was noticed in December of 2019.
WHO is scheduled to release the final report on its findings into the origins of coronavirus today.
The WHO experts believe that there is no evidence suggesting the virus was spreading any earlier than the very end of 2019.
The report lists four possible sources for the virus and the most likely scenario is via an intermediate animal host, possibly a wild animal captured and then raised on a farm.
But the investigation has not found what other animal was infected by a bat – considered the most likely original source of the virus – and then may have transmitted it to a human. “The possible intermediate host of SARS-CoV-2 remains elusive,” it reads.
Next likely is direct transmission from one of the animals known to carry a similar coronavirus, such as a bat or a pangolin. Possible but not probable is transmission from frozen or chilled food, and least likely is an accidental laboratory release, the report finds.
Independent researchers have been saying this for months. Genome testing in the virus indicates it was not engineered in a lab but passed naturally from animals – as did the SARS virus that infected 8,000 people globally in 2002-2004 before it was stopped.
Frozen food is also not a likely source, the report indicates. “There is no conclusive evidence for foodborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and the probability of a cold-chain contamination with the virus from a reservoir is very low,” it says.
The role of the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan is also unclear. It’s possible the market was not the original source of the outbreak, but that the crowds that gathered at the market — which was densely packed, with a roof and open sewers — may have amplified the spread of the virus.