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COVID-19 didn’t leak out of lab, animals likely source: China-WHO study

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A joint WHO-China study has found no veracity in the hypothesis about the COVID-19 virus leaking out of lab, and has stated that the likely scenario could be the virus’ transmission from bats to humans through another animal.

According to Associated Press, the team studying the origin of the virus has proposed further research in every area except the lab leak hypothesis.

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The report’s release has been repeatedly delayed, raising questions about whether the Chinese side was trying to skew the conclusions to prevent blame for the pandemic falling on China. A World Health Organisation official said late last week that he expected it would be ready for release in the next few days.

The AP received what appeared to be a near-final version on Monday from a Geneva-based diplomat from a WHO-member country. The AP report said it wasn’t clear if the study findings can be still changed ahead of its release.

In the report, the researchers have listed four scenarios in order of likelihood. They concluded that transmission through a second animal was likely to very likely. They evaluated direct spread from bats to humans as likely, and said that spread through cold-chain food products was possible, but not likely. The closest relative of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in bats, which are known to carry coronaviruses. However, the report says that the evolutionary distance between these bat viruses and SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be several decades, suggesting a missing link. It said that highly similar viruses have been found in pangolins, but also noted that mink and cats are susceptible to the COVID virus, which suggests they could be carriers.

The report is based largely on a visit by a WHO team of international experts to Wuhan, the Chinese city where COVID-19 was first detected, from mid-January to mid-February.

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Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO expert who led the Wuhan mission, said Friday that the report had been finalized and was being fact-checked and translated. “I expect that in the next few days, that whole process will be completed and we will be able to release it publicly,” he said.

(With inputs from agencies)

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