Feb 9, 2021 - Health

WHO: "Extremely unlikely" COVID-19 came from lab incident

WHO scientist holds a chart.
WHO scientist Peter Ben Embarek. Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

A World Health Organization team researching the origins of COVID-19 in Wuhan said Tuesday that it's "extremely unlikely" the virus came from a laboratory accident, and that it most likely jumped to humans via an intermediate species, per AP.

Why it matters: The Wuhan Institute of Virology, located just under 9 miles from the wet market where some scientists say the outbreak may have began, has been at the center of conspiracy theories over the origins of the virus.

  • “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,” said WHO scientist Peter Ben Embarek.
  • It is unclear which animal transmitted the virus or when that occurred. The virus may have also been transmitted through frozen food, Embarek said.

The big picture: The news conference comes after a two-week-long mission by a team of scientists from WHO and China, which had long been delayed by the Chinese government's refusal to let international investigators into the country.

  • Though investigators have focused on the wet market, where live animals are sold, transmission likely occurred in other areas of Wuhan at the time, said China's National Health Commission spokesperson Liang Wannian.
  • There is no indication that the virus was spreading in Wuhan before December 2019, investigators said.
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