BEIJING – A joint World Health Organization-China study on the origins of COVID-19 says that transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and that a lab leak is “extremely unlikely,” according to a draft copy obtained by The Associated Press.
The findings offer little new insight into how the virus first emerged and leave many questions unanswered. But the report does provide more detail on the reasoning behind the researchers' conclusions.
The team proposed further research in every area except the lab leak hypothesis — a speculative theory that was promoted by former U.S. President Donald Trump among others. It also said the role played by a seafood market where human cases were first identified was uncertain.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious diseases expert, said he would like to see the report's raw information first before deciding about its credibility.
“I’d also would like to inquire as to the extent in which the people who were on that group had access directly to the data that they would need to make a determination,” he said. “I want to read the report first and then get a feel for what they really had access to -- or did not have access to.”
The report, which is expected to be made public Tuesday, is being closely watched since discovering the origins of the virus could help scientists prevent future pandemics — but it's also extremely sensitive since China bristles at any suggestion that it is to blame for the current one.
Matthew Kavanagh of Georgetown University said the report deepened the understanding of the virus's origins, but more information was needed.
“It is clear that that the Chinese government has not provided all the data needed and, until they do, firmer conclusions will be difficult," he said in a statement.