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The option that it could have been developed in a laboratory is ruled out as extremely unlikely

The option that it could have been developed in a laboratory is ruled out as extremely unlikely
Atalayar_Investigacion Wuhan OMS

REUTERS/ALY SONG  -   Marion Koopmans and Peter Ben Embarek, members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Liang Wannian, head of the expert panel on the response to COVID-19 at the China National Health Commission, and China National Health Commission spokesperson Mi Feng attend the press conference of the joint WHO-China study

The WHO's conclusions, despite the packaging with which the arrival of the delegation of scientists from the organisation was treated, have brought nothing that has not been defended for months by different scientific bodies: the virus is, almost with total probability, of animal origin. It is therefore extremely improbable that its origin could be in a laboratory, as some world leaders have argued in denialism.

Likewise, studies carried out by the team led by the Danish Peter Ben Embarek, in collaboration with the Chinese scientific delegation, have considered that the most likely hypothesis is that the virus jumped to humans "via a third species". Doubts remain as to which species could have been the transmitter of the virus, and where the jump occurred.

Atalayar_Transmision COVID
AFP/AFP - Timeline of events leading up to the visit of World Health Organization research experts to Wuhan, China

Peter Ben Embarek and the head of the Chinese delegation, epidemiologist Liang Wannian, gave the press conference announcing the preliminary findings of the month-long investigation in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Liang Wannian, who is also the head of the Chinese delegation, is a member of the Chinese National Health Commission. 

As to where the virus was transferred to humans, all eyes are on the Huanan market, which has long been considered the epicentre of the pandemic, due to the sale not only of frozen animal products but also of live animals, both domestic and wild. The virus is still considered likely to have originated in bats, but the possible link to humans remains unknown. The international delegation itself, specifically virologist Marion Koopmans, has pointed to rabbits, ferrets and bamboo rats, which are animals that have passed through Huanan, as possible transmitters.

Atalayar_Liang Wannian Peter Ben Embarek
AP/NG HAN GUAN - Peter Ben Embarek of the World Health Organization team, right, shakes hands with his Chinese counterpart Liang Wannian after a press conference of the WHO-China joint study held at the end of the WHO mission to Wuhan, China, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021

However, Embarek has indicated that "it is not clear" that the market was ground zero of the pandemic, despite the fact that there have been cases that occurred there. And the Chinese delegation is also in this doubt, pointing to the presence of the virus in imported frozen leftovers, including packaging, as proof that the virus did not jump in its territory, but did so elsewhere. This fact is the main difference between the conclusions of each of the delegations.

Doubts about the origin are therefore still not fully resolved. It is now time to investigate further, not only in Wuhan, and to pull the rest of the threads to unravel this skein. It remains to study, as the Chinese say, the possible presence of the virus in other geographical areas even before December, when it was detected in Wuhan. Meanwhile, the Danish side points to the need to find out which animals were present in the market at that time, to try to find out what was the link between the virus present in bats and its arrival in humans.

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REUTERS/ALY SONG - People wearing masks walk in a street market following an outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Wuhan, Hubei province, China 8 February 2021

The international community has received this news with little enthusiasm. Countries are engaged in vaccination campaigns and vaccine shortages in the face of reductions in production by several pharmaceutical companies. The European Union, for example, has indicated that the difficulty of producing vaccines has been underestimated, and praised the fact that science has moved faster than industry. However, it has also accused some pharmaceutical companies of having inflated their production capacities to attract buyers, and that it is now clear that they cannot meet the demands.

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AFP PHOTO/ CHRIS BLACK/ WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION - Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO

Meanwhile, developing countries remain unconcerned about whether the virus is of animal origin or not, since regardless of it, their difficulties in accessing vaccines are enormous, and warn that if they do not get out of the pandemic at once, they will not really leave the virus behind.

For the WHO this first investigation was very important, due to the criticism the organisation suffered during the first months of the pandemic for its lack of forcefulness against the Chinese authorities for their opacity and lack of information on a virus that has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths around the world, when vaccination has barely begun.