China withheld information related to the origins of Covid-19 from the World Health Organization investigators – was the verdict the WHO gave on Tuesday as it released its final report following the mission to China.
The team of foreign experts from WHO spent four weeks in China earlier this year, looking to clear the speculations around the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak. As the trip concluded, it was already apparent that China did not disclose certain data with the investigators. One thing that is certain now is that more investigation is needed.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday, “I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough. Further data and studies will be needed to reach more robust conclusions.”
In its report, WHO said no firm link can be drawn between a Wuhan market and the origin of the outbreak. “Through extensive testing of animal products in the Huanan market, no evidence of animal infections was found,” though it also stated that some of the products were susceptible to the virus. Meanwhile, frozen food, packaging and cold-chain products were found to carry Covid-19. Further analysis is needed to trace this end.
The theory that the coronavirus was transmitted by bats was inconclusive: WHO found that while bats and pangolins “may be the reservoir of the virus that causes COVID-19, […] neither of the viruses identified so far from these mammalian species is sufficiently similar to SARS-CoV-2 to serve as its direct progenitor.” Moreover, “the presence of SARS-CoV-2 has not been detected through sampling and testing of bats or of wildlife across China.” The report also said other animals such as mink and cats may carry the disease.
The leak was not likely to have occurred at a Wuhan laboratory, but Tedros said more research is required to close this end. Tedros said Tuesday, “I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing.” Additional missions to China to investigate further may follow.
The WHO report suggests additional studies to analyze related animal trade, including farmers, suppliers, and workers with exposure to animals and cold-chain products, as well as aditional research into wildlife links in China, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.