Story at a glance

  • An international team of experts led by the World Health Organization traveled to Wuhan in January to determine the exact origin of COVID-19.
  • Following the conclusion of the investigation last month, the experts said it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus escaped from a government lab in Wuhan.
  • WHO says the theory is not completely off the table, as dozens of scientists have called for an entirely new investigation into all possibilities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has yet to definitively rule out the hypothesis that the coronavirus pandemic may have been caused by a lab-leak accident in Wuhan, China, ahead of the release of the health agency’s findings from an investigation into the viruses origins. 

An international team of experts led by the WHO traveled to Wuhan in mid-January for a long-awaited investigation aimed at answering key questions about where the pathogen originated and how it spilled over to humans. 


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Following the conclusion of the investigation last month, the experts said it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus escaped from a government lab in Wuhan, saying their initial findings suggest the virus most likely jumped from an intermediate animal to humans. 

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week a report on the investigation that will include key findings into the origin of the pandemic will be published the week of March 15. A summary of the report was supposed to be published in February but was scrapped. 

But still, the exact origin of the new coronavirus remains a mystery more than a year after it was first identified in Wuhan, and WHO officials confirmed on Monday to Business Insider the lab-leak theory is still not entirely off the table. 

On Thursday, an international group of more than two dozen scientists issued an open letter calling for an entirely new and truly independent investigation into the origins of the virus, arguing the current probe conducted by WHO was too restricted by the Chinese government to credibly pursue all plausible hypotheses, including the possibility the virus is connected with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. 

The facility of high-security laboratories has carried out extensive research on coronaviruses. 

The letter notes that half of the joint team carrying out the investigation is made of Chinese citizens whose “scientific independence may be limited,” and the team had to rely on information Chinese authorities chose to share. Any joint team report must also be approved by both the Chinese government and international members of the team. 

“Based on our analysis, and as confirmed by the global study convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese authorities, there is as yet no evidence demonstrating a fully natural origin of this virus. The zoonosis hypothesis, largely based on patterns of previous zoonosis events, is only one of a number of possible SARS-CoV-2 origins, alongside the research-related accident hypothesis,” the letter said. 


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Published on Mar 08, 2021