The report from a team of international scientists assembled by the World Health Organization (WHO) to examine how COVID-19 first spread to humans was published on Tuesday, and was described by the UN health agency’s chief as a welcome start, but far from conclusive. “This report is a very important beginning, but it is not the end”, said WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We have not yet found the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and leave no stone unturned as we do.”
Tedros welcomed the recommendations for further studies to understand the earliest human cases and clusters, and to trace animals sold at markets in and around Wuhan, but “the role of animal markets is still unclear.” The team confirmed there had been widespread contamination in the large market of Huanan but could not determine the source of this contamination.
The team also visited several laboratories in Wuhan and considered the possibility that the virus had entered the human population as a result of a laboratory incident, noted Tedros. “Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy.”
As far as WHO is concerned “all hypotheses remain on the table”, he told the Member State briefing on the report in Geneva. “Finding the origin of a virus takes time and we owe it to the world to find the source so we can collectively take steps to reduce the risk of this happening again. No single research trip can provide all the answers.”