WUHAN, China—The virus that causes Covid-19 most likely jumped from one species to another before entering the human population and is highly unlikely to have leaked from a laboratory, a leader of a World Health Organization investigative team said at a news conference in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
In laying out the possibilities for the origin of the pandemic, the WHO team said Tuesday it was also possible that the virus may have been transmitted to humans through imported frozen food, a theory heavily promoted by Beijing. But the team said the most likely scenario was one in which the virus spilled over naturally from an animal into humans, such as from a bat to a small mammal that then infected a person.
“Did we change dramatically the picture we had beforehand? I don’t think so,” said Peter Ben Embarek, a Danish food-safety expert who spoke on behalf of the WHO delegation. “Did we improve our understanding? Did we add details to that picture? Absolutely.”
The preliminary assessment came during a news conference at the end of a four-week mission, which included two weeks of quarantine, to Wuhan, the original center of the pandemic. It comes more than a year after the virus first began spreading in China and around the globe, killing more than two million people.
After reviewing environmental samples from Wuhan’s Huanan Market, as well as thousands of biological samples and case files from more than 200 local hospitals, 17 Chinese and 17 WHO experts said the market was one place where the virus began spreading rapidly, but cautioned that it was impossible to say how the virus arrived there.