“The Start Of The Story”
A team of investigators from the World Health Organization spent weeks inside China exploring the unknown: the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Here’s What They Learned
(And What They Didn’t)
- The virus that causes COVID-19 was first recognized in Wuhan, China.
- The virus (SARS-CoV-2) is genetically similar to SARS-CoV – a deadly virus that also emerged in China.
- The WHO team spent 4 weeks (incl. 2 in quarantine) in Wuhan w/Chinese experts, pouring over research and visiting a market & the Wuhan Institute of Virology – sites theorized as potential sources for the global pandemic.
The joint Chinese & WHO team investigated 4 hypotheses exploring where the new coronavirus came from & how it “jumped” to humans.
- Zoonotic: animal-to-human transfer.
- Intermediary: animal-to-animal-to-human transfer.
- Food chain: frozen food packaging transferring virus to humans.
- Lab incidents
“…since Wuhan is not a city or an environment close to bat environments, a direct jump from bats to the city of Wuhan is not very likely.”
Dr. Peter Embarek of the World Health Organization explained that although investigators believe the first "natural reservoir" for COVID-19 is bats, they cannot pinpoint the exact animal "reservoir" that may have transferred the virus to humans – despite studies on domesticated and wild animals – and called this theory a "work in progress."
- Most likely pathway of the virus is from an intermediary animal reservoir to humans – but this needs further study.
- Lab incident “extremely unlikely” – joint team advised no further study.
- No exact role of the Wuhan animal market identified other than early cases spread in the market.
- Bottom Line: We still don’t know the origins of SARS-CoV-2.
Why Rule Out The Lab?
- WHO lead investigator says lab accidents are “not impossible” but “extremely rare,” and that reported lab security made it “very unlikely anything could escape from such a place.”
- Questions remain. The Wall Street Journal asked if the Wuhan Institute of Virology lab was “genetically altering” existing coronaviruses. WHO didn’t directly answer, but said they hope to better clarify claims around any studies.
First blocking investigators & later calling it a misunderstanding, the Chinese gov't says the new coronavirus potentially started outside China and has focused on imported frozen food as a potential source of spread; the WHO has not ruled this out. BIG PICTURE: The exact route of transmission for ANY coronavirus, like MERS, has not been identified.
by Jenna Lee,