Asian Entreè International

WHO-China report says lab leak of COVID-19 “extremely unlikely”

Putting rest to speculations surrounding the origin of COVID-19, a joint World Health Organisation (WHO) and China study said on Monday, that the virus was probably transmitted from bats to humans through another animal, and that a lab leak was “extremely unlikely”.

The 124-page report of a joint inquiry by the WHO China — to be released officially on Tuesday but leaked to the media on Monday — contains a glut of new detail but no profound new insights.

The report is also not clear on whether China will permit outside experts to keep digging.

“The investigation runs the risk of going nowhere, and we may never find the true origins of the virus,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The report, an advance copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, says that China still does not have the data or research to indicate how or when the virus began spreading. Some sceptics outside the country say that China may have more information than it admits.

The Chinese government, while granting some degree of access and cooperation, has repeatedly tried to bend the investigation to its advantage. The report was written jointly by a team of 17 scientists from around the world, chosen by the WHO, and 17 Chinese scientists, many of whom hold official positions or work at government-run institutions, giving Beijing great influence over its conclusions.

The Chinese scientists supplied all the research data used in the report, while the foreign scientists reviewed it and interviewed Chinese researchers, doctors and patients. It is not clear whether the team selected by the WHO sought access to other data or permission to collect more.

Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, said he was not convinced that a laboratory leak was extremely unlikely, after seeing a copy of the report. He said he agreed that it was highly plausible that the virus could have evolved naturally to spread to humans, but he did not see any reasoning in the report to dismiss the possibility of a lab escape.

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