The study on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO) was published in Geneva on Tuesday. In it, experts emphasized the need for further studies on the origin of the virus in the animal world and a possible virus circulation outside of China before the first cases were discovered in Wuhan.
The researchers describe the theory that the virus could have escaped from a laboratory as “extremely unlikely” – in the spirit of the Chinese government. “We support a transparent and independent analysis and assessment of the origins of the virus, free from interference and undue influence,” said the US State Department in Washington. “In this regard, we express our common concern about the WHO-scheduled study in China.”
The study had been significantly delayed and the scientists had no access to complete original data sets and samples. Denmark, Norway, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Japan have also signed. Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Japan and Israel have also joined, Austria not.
Theses will be pursued further
The WHO will of course continue to pursue all the theses on the origin of the virus, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had previously assured. This also includes laboratory theory, said Peter Embarek, the head of the WHO team. However, it is much more likely that the virus comes from the animal world.
The mission was politically sensitive. China is doing everything in its power not to be pilloried as a scapegoat for the coronavirus pandemic. The government delayed the journey of foreign scientists for months.
Embarek circled difficult circumstances. “Of course there was political pressure, also from outside China,” he said. Critics suspect that China had a major influence on the final version of the report. “There was never any pressure to remove critical elements from our report,” said Embarek. All team members are behind the report. 17 international and 17 Chinese scientists were involved.
US government sees unanswered questions
The US government sees a number of unanswered questions. “I think we need to better understand the methodology of this report,” senior White House corona advisor Andy Slavitt told CNN. “Were the investigators who wrote the report given full access to everything? Were they in any way influenced by the Chinese government when they wrote this report? Until we know the answers to these questions, I think it is best if we look at the report with a healthy skepticism, not necessarily cynicism. ”
“As for WHO, all hypotheses remain on the table,” said Tedros. This report is an important beginning, but not the end. We have not yet found the origin of the virus. “He accused China of not providing the expert mission with enough data. In the future, he expects” joint studies to share more timely and comprehensive data. “Everything will be done to solve the mystery, to reduce the risk of a similar pandemic developing.
In the report, the team concludes that the virus could originate in pangolins as well as bats. It also recommends further studies as to whether the virus may have been circulating in other countries before the first cases were discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Also mink or cats as hosts
In the report, the experts do not rule out the possibility that the virus was already circulating in other countries before it was discovered in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan, China. However, the quality of previous studies on the subject leaves much to be desired, and further investigation must be carried out.
According to the scientists, besides bats and pangolins, minks and cats could also host the virus. Viruses that are most similar to the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been found in bats and pangolins, it said. “But none of the viruses that have so far been identified in these mammals is so similar to SARS-CoV-2 that it can be considered a direct precursor.”
“In addition, the high susceptibility of minks and cats to SARS-CoV-2 indicates that other animal species are possible reservoirs,” it says. The scientists assume an intermediate host from which the virus was transmitted to humans. But it has not yet been found. “Possible intermediate hosts could include mink, pangolin, rabbits, raccoon dogs and domestic cats (…) or species such as civets, badgers or related species of martens that were known to be infected with SARS coronavirus during the outbreak in Guangdong Province, China.”
The researchers report that it is not clear whether the Huanan market in Wuhan, which was at the center of the outbreak last year, actually ended the pandemic. Cases are also known that have nothing to do with the market. The results may suggest “that the Huanan market was not the original source of the outbreak,” the report said.
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