(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — Officials from the World Health Organization are currently in China to determine when and where the COVID-19 pandemic originated. The international team, which is comprised of experts from 10 countries, looked into the conspiracy theory that the virus was man-made and originated in a Wuhan lab — but say the possibility is “extremely unlikely.”
The Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is partnered with the Chinese Academy of Sciences — a government-run organization — has focused its efforts on gathering virus samples. The work is what seemingly triggered the speculation that the Institute was behind the leak and caused the outbreak.
The Institute has condemned the theory.
Peter Ben Embarek, WHO food safety and animal diseases expert, agrees with the Institute. “The findings suggest that the laboratory incident hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus into the human population,” said Embarek. “Therefore, [it] is not in the hypotheses that we will suggest for future studies.”
He said at the Tuesday press conference, “Our initial findings suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one that will require more studies and more specific targeted research.”
Embarek believes there is a stronger possibility that the novel coronavirus came from an animal or the virus came through the trade of frozen products. The first cluster of COVID-19 cases were linked back to a wet market that has since been closed.
Liang Wannian, the lead Chinese envoy who is part of the probe, suggests the virus didn’t originate at the wet market as there is evidence of transmission in other areas of the city at the same time.
The WHO team has since investigated several key locations in Wuhan.
While Wannian says his team has found no evidence of transmission before December 2019, when the world was first alerted of the virus, Embarek says there has been no evidence of “large outbreaks” prior to that date.
COVID-19 has infected over 27.1 million Americans and killed over 468,000 people, says Johns Hopkins University.