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The WHO and China conclude that the coronavirus is of animal origin and that it emerged in December in Wuhan

The WHO describes as “extremely unlikely” that it escaped from a laboratory

The World Health Organization (WHO) team of experts stationed in China to investigate the origins of the coronavirus has concluded that SARS-CoV-2 is of animal origin and that “there is no evidence” that there was transmission before its detection in December 2019 in Wuhan.

The team arrived in Wuhan on January 14, considered the epicenter city of the pandemic, and, after two weeks of quarantine, have visited places such as the Huanan wholesale seafood market, where the first known group of infections occurred. like the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

According to their conclusions, presented this Tuesday at a press conference from Wuhan, it is not yet possible to determine how the COVID-19 virus was introduced into the Huanan market, but they assure that it was already circulating in other parts of the city at that time. . In any case, experts have denied that it was spreading through the Chinese city before the end of 2019.

Peter Ben Embarek, a specialist in food safety and animal diseases at the WHO and chair of the research team in Wuhan, has acknowledged that the mission has not been disruptive in terms of the opinion of the WHO on the origins of the coronavirus: “We came here with two objectives: one, to find out what happened at the beginning of the pandemic. We have focused on trying to understand what happened during that period. In parallel, we also embarked on trying to understand how it happened, how the virus emerged, how it jumped into the human population . Do we radically change the image we had beforehand? I think not, “he admitted.

However, he has pointed out that “crucial details” have been added to this explanation. “We have not found evidence of large outbreaks that could be linked before December in Wuhan. We can also agree that we found a wider circulation of the virus in Wuhan in December, not only limited to the Huanan market,” he has established.

Thus, the expert has explained that the WHO shuffles “four hypotheses” about how the COVID-19 virus jumped to humans. In the first place, the direct jump from an animal to a human; the second, of the bat and through intermediate animal species, with a second animal involved that is “potentially closer to humans in which the virus adapts easily and jumps to humans.”

The third theory, which has also been defended by Liang Wannian, head of the COVID-19 expert panel of the Chinese Ministry of Health, is the possibility that frozen products act as a transmission surface of the virus to the human population or routes of transmission related to food. The Chinese expert has made this argument to suggest that the virus could be imported to China from other parts of the world, a fact that Embarek has not completely ruled out either.

“Our initial findings suggest that the intermediate animal pathway is the most likely and the one that will require more more specific studies,” he noted, while acknowledging the validity that the virus could have been transmitted via the cold chain.

In this context, Embarek has argued that it will be necessary to investigate bat populations outside of China, since, as stated by the head of the COVID-19 expert panel of the Chinese Ministry of Health, the sampling of bat caves in Wuhan and elsewhere with animals have so far failed to establish a strong enough relationship.

Liang Wannian has targeted bats and pangolins as hosts for SARS-CoV-2 before it jumped to humans, but has said that “the viruses identified from these two animals so far are not similar enough” to assert with rotundity that are the reservoirs. According to the theories of the research group, the feline family could also be a potential reservoir of the coronavirus given the susceptibility of minks and cats to COVID-19.

Taking into account the evidence of the zoonotic origin of the coronavirus, the WHO has ruled out further investigating the theory that the COVID-19 virus was originated in the laboratory. “It is extremely unlikely that it explains the introduction of the virus into the human population and, therefore, it is not a hypothesis that implies future studies to support our work on understanding the origin of the virus,” he detailed.

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