A joint report on the Global Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2 conducted by the World Health organization (WHO) and China has failed to offer any conclusive answer as to how the pandemic may have started.

According to the joint report that was recently published, “The joint international team comprised 17 Chinese and 17 international experts from other countries, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) (Annex B). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) participated as an observer. Following initial online meetings, a joint study was conducted over a 28-day period from 14 January to 10 February 2021 in the city of Wuhan, People’s Republic of China.”

But the findings remain inconclusive, especially when it comes to the popular theory that the human first came into contact with the virus at the Huanan wet market, where a wide variety of meats, including those of prohibited species are sold. According to the report, “Many of the early cases were associated with the Huanan market, but a similar number of cases were associated with other markets and some were not associated with any markets. Transmission within the wider community in December could account for cases not associated with the Huanan market which, together with the presence of early cases not associated with that market, could suggest that the Huanan market was not the original source of the outbreak.”

It also raises the possibility of the virus having come into the market via cold-chain animal products from other countries. The report says, “The supply chains to Huanan market included cold-chain products and animal products from 20 countries, including those where samples have been reported as positive for SARS-CoV-2 before the end of 2019 and those where close relatives of SARS-CoV-2 are found. There is evidence that some domesticated wildlife the products of which were sold in the market are susceptible to SARS-CoV, but none of the animal products sampled in the market tested positive in this study.”

There is also no clarity as to which animal carried the virus. The report says, “The molecular epidemiology and bioinformatics working group examined the genomic data of viruses collected from animals. Evidence from surveys and targeted studies so far have shown that the coronaviruses most highly related to SARS-CoV-2 are found in bats and pangolins, suggesting that these mammals may be the reservoir of the virus that causes COVID-19. However, neither of the viruses identified so far from these mammalian species is sufficiently similar to SARS-CoV-2 to serve as its direct progenitor.” It adds, “More than 80 000 wildlife, livestock and poultry samples were collected from 31 provinces in China and no positive result was identified for SARS-CoV-2 antibody or nucleic acid before and after the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in China. Through extensive testing of animal products in the Huanan market, no evidence of animal infections was found.”

The joint group has recommended further studies. The entire report may be read here.

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