WHO experts confirm thesis of corona origin in an animal

The origin of the global corona pandemic is in all likelihood in the animal kingdom. This thesis, which has already been expressed several times, is also underpinned by the team of experts who were in Wuhan, China, on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO) in January and February. In their eagerly awaited final report on the trip, the team assesses it as “likely to very likely” that the virus has spread from animals to humans via an intermediate host. The report was available to the dpa in Geneva. The thesis that the virus accidentally escaped from a virus laboratory and spread is therefore considered an “extremely unlikely path”.

The three coronavirus labs in Wuhan are well managed and have not recorded any cases of respiratory disease in the weeks and months leading up to December 2019, the report said. According to her, no work with these viruses was carried out before the outbreak. The hypothesis of an intentional dissemination or intentional production of Sars-Cov-2 for dissemination was not examined, as it was further said. “The latter was ruled out by other scientists after analyzing the genomes.”

The WHO plans to present the report to the 194 member countries on Tuesday and then publish it in the afternoon. Some media had previously quoted from the draft. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus did not want to comment on details on Monday. But he emphasized several times: “All the hypotheses are on the table and must be investigated further.”

The Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans, who was part of the team, rejected the allegation that the scientists in China could not have worked freely. She and the team would not have felt that way. “It was just a very complex investigation,” said Koopmans. A lot of people from many areas were involved. Then you can’t just expect all the data quickly. “That’s not how it works.”

The WHO expert trip to China was extremely sensitive from the start in the geopolitical environment with the tensions between the USA and China. Former US President Donald Trump spoke of the “Wuhan virus” or “China virus” and accused China of not having stopped the global spread in time. Beijing was therefore all the more anxious to prevent being pilloried as the originator of the pandemic. China, for example, delayed the visit of the independent experts for months. The participants and the exact work program were haggled forever.

Team leader Peter Ben Embarek granted special working conditions. “Politics was always in the room,” the Danish scientist told the magazine Science. “We had between 30 and 60 colleagues, and many of them were non-scientists, not in the public health field.” The WHO team comprised 17 experts, some of whom supported the work from abroad.

At the end of the mission in early February, the team said it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus had escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan. Critics suspected that this was due to Chinese pressure. In Science defended Embarek the assessment. The team did not receive any reliable information from a third party to support suspicions to the contrary. He added, “The fact that the hypothesis is classified as extremely unlikely does not mean that it is impossible. We are not closing this door.”

China insists on looking for a possible origin of the virus in other countries as well. The government propagates the thesis that the virus could also have been introduced into China from abroad via frozen food. Viruses were found on some imported products. However, Embarek has repeatedly rejected this as highly unlikely. At most, the question arises as to whether the viruses were brought to Wuhan via the local frozen food trade from southern China, he said in mid-February.


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