According to a World Health Organization draft study, COVID-19 most likely spread across animals and began spreading no more than a month or two before it was discovered in December 2019.
The least likely cause, according to the WHO’s joint international team, is a laboratory leak.
The WHO is set to release the final report on its investigation into the source of coronavirus today, but according to a draft version obtained by CNN, there’s still no smoking gun and no proof that the virus was circulating before the end of 2019.
However, the investigation has not discovered what other species was infected by a bat, which is thought to be the most likely original source of the virus, and then passed it on to a human.
It reads, “The potential intermediate host of SARS-CoV-2 remains elusive.”
Direct transmission from one of the animals known to carry a similar coronavirus, such as a bat or a pangolin, is the next most likely route.
Transmission from frozen or chilled food is possible but not likely, and an accidental laboratory release is the least likely, according to the study.
Dr. Robert Redfield, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta that he believes the virus was released from a lab.
According to the report, this is “highly unlikely.”
It reads, “There is no record of viruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 in any laboratory before December 2019, or genomes that could be combined to include a SARS-CoV-2 genome.”
“In light of the above, a pandemic with a laboratory cause was deemed highly unlikely.”
For months, independent experts have been stating this.
The virus was not engineered in a lab, but rather transmitted naturally from animals, as was the case with the SARS virus, which infected 8000 people worldwide between 2002 and 2004 before being eradicated.
According to the study, frozen food is also unlikely to be a source.
“There is no definitive evidence of SARS-CoV-2 transmission by food, and the risk of cold-chain contamination with the virus from a reservoir is extremely low,” it says.
The position of Wuhan’s Huanan seafood market is also unknown.
It’s likely that the market wasn’t the cause of the outbreak, but that the crowds that gathered there – which was tightly populated, with a roof and open sewers – helped in the virus’s spread.
The virus was present on surfaces at the market, but not in samples taken from animals or food sold there.
Furthermore, evidence suggests that the virus was circulating prior to the Huanan market outbreak, even at other markets.
“Some of the early cases were associated with the Huanan market,” according to the survey, “but a similar number of cases were associated with other markets, and some were not associated with any markets.”
“Cases not associated with the Huanan market could be attributed to transmission within the broader population in December, which, combined with the existence of early cases not associated with that market, could mean that the Huanan market was not the original source of the outbreak.”
“At this point, no firm conclusions can be made about the role of the Huanan industry in the outbreak’s origins or how the infection was introduced into the market.”
More testing of blood samples taken and stored before the first outbreak in December, more testing of Southeast Asian animals, and a more in-depth review of mass gatherings that may have helped the virus’s spread are all recommended in the report.
The WHO, the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), and the World Organisation for Animal Health collaborated on the study, which was written by a joint international team composed of 17 Chinese experts and 17 experts from other countries, as well as WHO, the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
As an observer, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was present.
“Following initial online meetings, a joint study was conducted in the city of Wuhan, People’s Republic of China, over a 28-day period from 14 January to 10 February 2021,” according to the paper.
Before anyone knew, the team searched for signs that the virus was circulating in China.
“Through studies from surveillance of morbidity (illness) due to respiratory diseases in and around Wuhan in late 2019, the epidemiology working group closely examined the possibilities of finding earlier cases of COVID-19,” it read.
“It also used national sentinel surveillance results, laboratory confirmations of illness, records of retail pharmacy purchases of antipyretics (fever reducers), cold and cough medicines, and a convenience subset of over 4500 study project samples stored at various hospitals in Wuhan, Hubei Province, and other provinces from the second half of 2019. There was no proof of an effect of COVID-19’s causative agent on morbidity in the months leading up to the outbreak in any of these studies.”
Further investigations into farms as a potential source of the virus are suggested in the paper.
“While the closest associated viruses have been found in bats,” the study notes, “the evolutionary gap between these bat viruses and SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be several decades, indicating a missing link.”
The virus can infect animals like mink and rabbits, according to the study.
COVID-19 outbreaks have been related to mink farms in a variety of countries.
According to the paper, “the growing number of animals shown to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 includes animals that are farmed in adequate densities to allow for enzootic circulation.”
“High-density farming is popular in many parts of the world, and it involves a wide variety of livestock and farmed wildlife.”