WHO draft report says animals likely source of COVID-19

Coronavirus Origin WHO dismisses'lab leak theory, says animals likely source of COVID-19

China has been trying to deflect criticism of its handling of the pandemic amid growing scrutiny over the pathogen's origins, including speculation promoted by the former Trump administration that the SARS-CoV-2 virus leaked from a Wuhan lab.

The US expects the WHO-led investigation to require further study of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, perhaps including a return visit to China, a senior US official told reporters last week.

The long-awaited study has been repeatedly delayed since it was commissioned past year, prompting doubts about input from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its aim of diverting attention away from the controversial government research laboratory, at one stage implicating the United States military, without evidence, and urging the W.H.O.to launch probes into the virus's origins outside of China. The diplomat did not want to be identified because they were not authorized to release it ahead of publication.

According to the report, direct spread from bats to humans is likely, and spread through "cold-chain" food products was possible but not likely. The scientists proposed further research in every area except the lab leak hypothesis, the AP reported Monday, citing a draft copy of the report, which it said left many questions unanswered.

"The scenario including introduction through an intermediary host was considered to be likely to very likely", it said, although it did not conclude which animal may have first allowed the virus to jump to humans.

The report is the result of a four-week mission to the Chinese city of Wuhan that happened in January and February.

Peter Ben Embarek, the World Health Organization expert who led the Wuhan mission, said Friday that the report had been finalised and was being fact-checked and translated.

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As the pandemic spread globally, China found samples of the virus on the packaging of frozen food coming into the country and, in some cases, have tracked localised outbreaks to them.

In the latest statement, experts said they believe that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the Covid-19 disease originally came from bats.

In the 15 months since the coronavirus emerged, the pandemic has engulfed the planet, killing almost 2.8 million people and shredding the global economy.

The closest relative of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in bats, which are known to carry coronaviruses.

German worldwide development minister Gerd Mueller said at the same briefing that he welcomed China's cooperation with the probe, which took place in January-February.

The expert team of 10 global investigators, 17 Chinese counterparts and 10 members of other agencies spent four weeks in China in January and February.

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