Dr. Peter Ben Embarek from the World Health Organization also said the possibility of the virus coming from a lab was "extremely unlikely"

By Jen Juneau
February 09, 2021 03:00 PM
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COVID in Wuhan
Staff at Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in February 2020
| Credit: STR/AFP via Getty

At a press conference on Tuesday, World Health Organization's Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, an expert on food safety and animal diseases, said that it was "extremely unlikely" that COVID-19 came from a lab in Wuhan, China, the city where the virus was first reported.

"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," he said, according to NBC News.

Embarek also said that research thus far showed "a natural reservoir" in bats when it came to studying the origins of the virus, but that likely didn't happen in Wuhan, the BBC reports. He added that the rumor about the virus coming from a lab was "not in the hypotheses that we will suggest for future studies."

Also present at the conference was China National Health Commission expert Liang Wannian, who said early data points to the possibility that the virus had been spreading for weeks before the first case was actually diagnosed in Wuhan.

"This indicates the possibility of the missed reported circulation in other regions," Liang said, adding that there was also no evidence of the virus circulating in Wuhan before December 2019, when the first case was reported, according to NBC News.

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Peter Ben Embarek
Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, WHO
| Credit: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty

The BBC reports that officials said the virus could have spread to humans from animals, including bats and pangolins — and/or through imported frozen foods — but there is still research to be done in that arena.

COVID in Wuhan
Firefighters prepare to conduct disinfection at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in April 2020
| Credit: Getty

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USA Today reports that findings have come from WHO team members from 10 different countries who have spent several weeks in Wuhan in search of answers, from visiting a wildlife market linked to the outbreak, plus research facilities and hospitals.

Embarek said at Tuesday's conference that while he doesn't believe his team "change(d) dramatically the picture we had beforehand," they "improved(d) [their] understanding" and "add(ed) details to that picture."

As nations around the globe continue to strive to distribute vaccines, a faster-spreading COVID strain first found in the U.K. — the B.1.1.7 strain — is now moving rapidly through the U.S., a new study found, and will be the dominant strain "in a matter of weeks."

However, both Pfizer and Moderna have said that their vaccines are effective against the B.1.1.7 strain, and that they can manufacture a booster shot if needed.

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