WHO report says transmission from animal is most likely source of coronavirus: report

The coronavirus is believed to have originated when the disease was transmitted from an animal to a human in China, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO). 

The report, a draft copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, said that theories that the virus originated in a lab are "extremely unlikely," and recommends more research in nearly every area except the lab theory.

The release of the report, which is part of a joint effort by the WHO and China, has been delayed several times, drawing the ire of some world leaders eager for answers on the pandemic's origins.

"We've got real concerns about the methodology and the process that went into that report, including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a recent interview, the AP noted.

Rejecting claims of collusion with WHO officials to obtain a more favorable report, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian asked, "Isn't the U.S. trying to exert political pressure on the members of the WHO expert group?"

Blinken said in an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that the U.S. would not take punitive action on China for its handling of the virus.

A WHO team of scientists has been in Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have started at a wet market, since January. 

The report suggested several scenarios for how the pandemic could have begun and listed bat-to-human transmission as the most likely origin.

Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told CNN in an interview released Friday that he thinks the coronavirus originated in a lab in China.

"It's not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect a laboratory worker," Redfield said, though there is no hard evidence that the virus escaped from a lab, and Redfield noted that his comments are "my opinion."

Matthew Kavanagh, director of the Global Health Policy and Politics Initiative at Georgetown University's O'Neill Institute, said in a statement to The Hill that while the report offers "important insights" it shows how important it is for governments worldwide to "strengthen the effort [to document the virus origins] and WHO."

"We may not know the true source of this virus for years, if ever," Kavanagh added. "In the meantime we need a stronger, more capable WHO, not one disabled by being caught in great power conflict."

The AP noted the report could be changed before its official release slated for Monday. 

"I expect that in the next few days, that whole process will be completed and we will be able to release it publicly," said Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO expert who is leading the investigation in Wuhan.

Updated at 10:22 a.m.