The expert team concluded that the coronavirus probably emerged in bats before spreading to humans through an intermediate animal. But the team said there was not enough evidence to identify the species or to pinpoint where the spillover of the virus from animals first occurred.

Early in the pandemic, Chinese officials floated theories suggesting that the coronavirus outbreak might have started at the Huanan market. More than a year later, the role of animal markets in the story of the pandemic is still unclear, according to the report.

The expert team found that many early cases had no clear connection to Huanan market, which sold sika deer, badgers, bamboo rats, live crocodiles and other animals, according to vendor records cited in the report.

Among those initial confirmed cases, about 28 percent had links to the Huanan market and 23 percent were tied to other markets in Wuhan, while 45 percent had no history of market exposure, according to the report.

“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.

It says that further studies of farms and wild animals in China are needed, and that more clues about the markets’ role may emerge.

The expert team offers a long list of recommendations for additional research: more testing of wildlife and livestock in China and Southeast Asia, more studies on the earliest cases of Covid-19 and more tracing of pathways from farms to markets in Wuhan.

But it is unclear whether China, which has repeatedly hindered the W.H.O. inquiry, will cooperate. Chinese officials have sought to redirect attention elsewhere, suggesting that the virus could have emerged in the United States or other countries.

Experts say the delays in the inquiry have hurt the ability to prevent other pandemics.

“This delay has obviously compromised the ability of the investigation to reconstruct the origins of Covid-19 and identify ways of reducing the risk of such events happening again in the future,” said Michael Baker, a professor of public health at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

View Source

Virus Origins Remain Unclear in W.H.O.-China Inquiry

For 27 days, they searched for clues in Wuhan, visiting hospitals, live animal markets and government laboratories, conducting interviews and pressing Chinese officials for data, but an international team of experts departed the country still far from understanding the origins of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 2.8 million people worldwide.

The 124-page report of a joint inquiry by the World Health Organization and China — to be released officially on Tuesday but leaked to the media on Monday — contains a glut of new detail but no profound new insights. And it does little to allay Western concerns about the role of the Chinese Communist Party, which is notoriously resistant to outside scrutiny and has at times sought to hinder any investigation by the W.H.O. The report is also not clear on whether China will permit outside experts to keep digging.

“The investigation runs the risk of going nowhere, and we may never find the true origins of the virus,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The report, an advance copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, says that China still does not have the data or research to indicate how or when the virus began spreading. Some skeptics outside the country say that China may have more information than it admits.

new inquiry into the origin of the pandemic. They said such an inquiry should consider the possibility that the virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan or infected someone inside it.

The lab leak theory has been promoted by some officials in the Trump administration, including Dr. Robert Redfield, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in comments to CNN last week. He offered no evidence and emphasized that it was his opinion; the theory has been widely dismissed by scientists and U.S. intelligence officials.

Matt Apuzzo and Apoorva Mandavilli contributed reporting. Albee Zhang contributed research.

View Source

Coronavirus Most Likely Came From Bats, W.H.O. Report Says

The coronavirus most likely emerged in bats before spreading to humans through another animal, according to a report to be released by the World Health Organization on Tuesday, offering some clues on a question that has become politically fraught amid accusations of interference from Beijing.

According to the report on the origin of the pandemic, which was obtained by The New York Times in advance of its release, a team of experts who recently visited the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019, also dismissed the idea that the virus might have leaked accidentally from a Chinese laboratory as “extremely unlikely.”

Officials in the United States and elsewhere have expressed concern about China’s efforts to reshape the narrative about the outbreak in Wuhan, which the authorities initially tried to conceal.

Critics have assailed the inquiry by the W.H.O. team as insufficient, saying the global health agency has been too deferential to Beijing. Chinese scientists, many of whom are affiliated with the government, helped oversee the inquiry, and the report was repeatedly delayed amid delicate negotiations with Chinese officials. For months, China sought to delay the visit of the investigators in an apparent attempt to avoid scrutiny of its early mistakes in handling the pandemic.

refused to share raw data about some of the earliest possible virus cases with the W.H.O. team, frustrating some of the visiting scientists.

China’s lack of transparency as well as other concerns prompted a small group of scientists not affiliated with the World Health Organization to call this month for a new inquiry into the origin of the pandemic. They said such an inquiry should consider the possibility that the virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan or infected someone inside it.

The lab leak theory has been promoted by some officials in the Trump administration, including Dr. Robert Redfield, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in comments to CNN last week. He offered no evidence and emphasized that it was his opinion; the theory has been widely dismissed by scientists and U.S. intelligence officials.

Matt Apuzzo contributed reporting.

View Source

Ex-C.D.C. Director Favors Debunked Covid-19 Origin Theory

The former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a CNN clip on Friday that he favored a theory, decried by many scientists and rejected as “extremely unlikely” by at least one World Health Organization international expert, that the coronavirus escaped from a lab in Wuhan. The former official, Dr. Robert Redfield, offered no evidence and emphasized that it was his opinion.

“I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, escaped. The other people don’t believe that. That’s fine. Science will eventually figure it out,” Dr. Redfield told Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the video clip, referring to the origin of the virus. A formal report from the W.H.O. team and the Chinese scientists it worked with, on the origins of the pandemic and on the coronavirus in humans, is expected next week.

Despite Dr. Redfield’s comments, officials briefed on the intelligence say there is no new evidence that would cause American spy agencies to reassess their views. There is no new information that bolsters the so-called lab theory, according to officials briefed on the intelligence.

During the Trump administration, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and to a lesser extent the president himself, pushed the theory that the coronavirus had escaped from a lab.

the Director of National Intelligence in the Trump administration concurred “with the wide scientific consensus that the Covid-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.”

Although that statement was diplomatically worded, the message from the intelligence agencies was clear that, despite pressure from the Trump administration, they had no evidence that the coronavirus had escaped from the lab. And many intelligence officials remained far more skeptical than Mr. Pompeo, telling colleagues there was simply not enough information to say where the coronavirus came from, and certainly not enough to challenge the scientific consensus that was skeptical of the lab theory.

The C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies have been skeptical that China was sharing all that it knew about the virus, although that was at least in part because of local officials withholding critical information from Beijing at key moments at the beginning of the outbreak.

wrote an open letter in early March when the W.H.O. team report was first anticipated demanding a thorough investigation of Chinese labs. Virologists who have studied the evolution of coronaviruses and the way they have jumped to humans in the past causing SARS and MERS continue to argue that the evidence for a natural origin apart from a lab leak is overwhelming.

The Chinese government, prominent Chinese scientists and many virologists, who study the evolution of viruses and the appearance of infectious diseases, have said the lab leak theory was very unlikely, citing genetic evidence and the many opportunities for natural infection in human interactions with animals like bats, where the virus is believed to have originated.

When Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, was asked at a White House news conference on the pandemic on Friday about Dr. Redfield’s comments, he noted that the remarks were only an opinion. Dr. Fauci said that there are different ways viruses could become adapted to humans.

“You know one of them is in the lab and one of them, which is the more likely, which most public health officials agree with, is that it likely was below the radar screen, spreading in the community in China for several weeks if not a month or more, which allowed it, when it first got recognized clinically to be pretty well adapted,” Dr. Fauci said.

At the same news conference on Friday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the current director of the C.D.C., said she was looking forward to reviewing the upcoming joint report from the W.H.O. experts and Chinese scientists.

“I don’t have any indication for or against either of the hypotheses that Dr. Fauci just outlined,” she said.

Zachary Montague and Isabella Grullón Paz contributed reporting.

View Source

Some Scientists Question W.H.O. Inquiry Into the Coronavirus Pandemic’s Origins

Asked to respond to the letter, Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for the W.H.O., replied in an email that the team of experts that had gone to China “is working on its full report as well as an accompanying summary report, which we understand will be issued simultaneously in a couple of weeks.”

The open letter noted that the W.H.O.’s study was a joint effort by a team of outside experts, selected by the global health organization, who worked along with Chinese scientists, and that the team’s report must be agreed on by all. The letter emphasized that the team was denied access to some records and did not investigate laboratories in China.

Findings by the team, the letter stated, “while potentially useful to a limited extent, represent neither the official position of the W.H.O. nor the result of an unrestricted, independent investigation.”

Without naming him, the letter criticized Peter Daszak, an expert in animal diseases and their connection to human health, who is the head of EcoHealth Alliance. The letter linked to articles about Dr. Daszak and said he had previously stated his conviction that a natural origin of the virus was most likely.

Dr. Daszak said the letter’s push to investigate a lab origin for the virus was a position “supported by political agendas.”

“I strongly urge the global community to wait for the publication of the report from the W. H.O. mission,” he added.

Filippa Lentzos, a senior lecturer in science and international security, at King’s College London, and one of the signers of the letter, said, “I think in order to get a credible investigation, it has to be more of a global effort in the sense that it should be taken to the U.N. General Assembly where all the nations of the world are represented and can vote on whether or not to give a mandate to the U.N. secretary general, to carry out this kind of investigation.”

View Source