‘Not possible to determine’ exact origins of Covid-19, but available evidence points to animal source – WHO

‘Not possible to determine’ exact origins of Covid-19, but available evidence points to animal source – WHO

While the origin of the coronavirus has yet to be confirmed, early findings suggest it originated in animals, a top World Health Organization (WHO) official said shortly after the US president fueled the ‘Wuhan lab’ theory.

Asked to comment on recent reports by major US media outlets suggesting the lethal virus emanated from a virology lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, cautioned against speculation, saying the verdict was still out on the exact origins of the pathogen.

“I think at this stage it’s not possible to determine the precise source, but available evidence suggests that it has an origin from animals,” Kasai said at a virtual press conference on Tuesday. “Again, there are many researchers studying these issues, and we’ve heard that this might have originated from bats, but how it reached humans we still don’t know.”

Last week, Fox News and the Washington Post both ran stories, largely based on anonymous US government sources, suggesting that the coronavirus might have escaped from the lab in Wuhan. Although US President Donald Trump fell short of endorsing the theory outright, he threw his weight behind the idea, saying it “seems to make sense,” and that the White House was now looking into the question. 

Not everybody on Trump’s own Covid-19 task force seems to be on board, however. One key figure, Dr Anthony Fauci, has been dismissive of the claim, insisting at a recent briefing that the virus was not “man-made” and had instead evolved naturally to infect humans.

As drama and speculation about the pandemic swirl in the political realm, however, scientists have been hard at work investigating the virus’ origins, with one recent study led by geneticists at Cambridge University concluding that it may have come on the scene much earlier than previously thought. While a number of experts have estimated that the first human infection occurred sometime in November or December 2019 near a wildlife market in Wuhan, the Cambridge researchers believe the outbreak actually started weeks prior, in September, and it may not have happened in Wuhan at all, but somewhere south of the central Chinese city. While the geneticists could provide few definite answers, the mystery may be unraveled further as research continues, with scientists building genetic models to trace the virus back to its true point of origin.

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