Beijing (China) | Jagran News Desk: Ending the year-long speculations over the origins of COVID-19, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday said that the infection transmitted to humans from bats via another animal. In its report, assessed by The Associated Press, the WHO also dismissed the lab leak theory of COVID-19, calling it "extremely unlikely".

The report said that closest relative of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in bats. However, it states that "the evolutionary distance between these bat viruses and SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be several decades, suggesting a missing link".

It said highly similar viruses have been found in pangolins, but also noted that mink and cats are susceptible to the COVID virus, which suggests they could be carriers.

The report is based largely on a visit by a WHO team of international experts to Wuhan, the Chinese city where COVID-19 was first detected, from mid-January to mid-February.

Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO expert who led the Wuhan mission, said Friday that the report had been finalised and was being fact-checked and translated.

“I expect that in the next few days, that whole process will be completed and we will be able to release it publicly,” he said.

The draft report is inconclusive on whether the outbreak started at a Wuhan seafood market that had one of the earliest clusters of cases in December 2019.

The discovery of other cases before the Huanan market outbreak suggests it may have started elsewhere. But the report notes there could have been milder cases that went undetected and that could be a link between the market and earlier cases.

"No firm conclusion therefore about the role of the Huanan market in the origin of the outbreak, or how the infection was introduced into the market, can currently be drawn,” the report says.

As the pandemic spread globally, China found samples of the virus on the packaging of frozen food coming into the country and, in some cases, have tracked localised outbreaks to them.

The report said that the cold chain, as it is known, can be a driver of long-distance virus spread but was sceptical it could have triggered the outbreak. The report says the risk is lower than through human-to-human respiratory infection, and most experts agree.

"While there is some evidence for possible reintroduction of SARS-CoV-2 through handling of imported contaminated frozen products in China since the initial pandemic wave, this would be extraordinary in 2019 where the virus was not widely circulating," the study said.

(With inputs from AP)

Posted By: Aalok Sensharma