The novel coronavirus was most likely transmitted from bats to humans through another animal, and not from a Chinese lab, a report from the World Health Organization says, according to a draft copy leaked to the Associated Press by a diplomat.
In essence, the report says bats likely transmitted coronavirus to another animal which transmitted it to humans, meaning transmission did not likely go directly from bats to humans, but through a second animal.
The researchers said a lab leak was “extremely unlikely” and proposed further research in every area except the lab leak hypothesis.
The report, which was repeatedly delayed, leaves many questions unanswered. For instance, it does not answer the most important question: why did the outbreak begin in Wuhan, China, where a lab is known to study coronaviruses?
AP said it received what appeared to be near-final version of the report on Monday from a Geneva-based diplomat from a WHO-member country who did not want to be identified because they were not authorized to release it ahead of publication. AP said it was not clear whether the report might still be changed prior to the release.
The publication quoted researchers as listing four scenarios in order of likelihood, and concluded that transmission through a second animal was likely to very likely.
They evaluated direct spread from bats to humans as likely, and said that spread through “cold-chain” food products was possible but not likely.
The closest relative to the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in bats, which are known to carry coronaviruses. However, the report says that “the evolutionary distance between these bat viruses and SARS-COVID-2 is estimated to be several decades, suggesting a missing link,” the AP reported.
The report says that highly similar viruses have been found in pangolins, but also noted that mink and cats are susceptible to the COVID virus, suggesting they could be carriers.
The report is mainly based on a visit by a WHO team and international experts to Wuhan, the Chinese city where COVID-19 was first detected in from mid-January from mid-February.
The AP quoted Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO expert who led the Wuhan mission, as saying on Friday that the report has been finalized and was being fact-checked and translated.
“I expect that in the next few days, that whole process will be completed and we will be able to release it publicly,” he said.