Bats, minks, frozen meat or lab leak? WHO still in the dark over coronavirus origin

New DelhiEdited By: Gravitas deskUpdated: May 25, 2021, 01:52 PM IST

Story highlights

The WHO said it was possible virus jump directly from an animal to a human. It had also said the virus could have jumped from one animal to another and then to humans. The health body had left every hypothesis open

Health ministers from at least 194 states are attending the WHO's annual world health assembly. The meeting is expected to focus on pandemic reforms.


However, 18 months into the pandemic, there is still no proof about the origin of the pandemic - bats, minks, frozen meat or an accidental lab leak?

The WHO had promised to find an answer but it has only added to the confusion. On May 19, the global health body had launched a probe. An investigation to trace the origins of the virus.

However, in the months that followed, the WHO presented many hypotheses, supported them with evidence but then went on to counter each one of them.

"The evidence we have from the sequencing and all that we have been advised is that the virus itself is of natural origin," Micheal Ryan, WHO's emergencies director had said.

It's been a never-ending cycle of claims and counter-claims. Now, the cycle has entered another phase. The global health body is meeting once again.

"I wish to confirm that all hypotheses remain open and require further analysis and studies," Tedros had said in February on the virus origin.

"WHO is committed to do everything it can, based on science and solutions, to find the origin," Tedros had said earlier.

It was only in January 2021 that a team of 10 researchers with expertise in virology had travelled to Wuhan. They visited hospitals that treated some of the first patients.

The infamous seafood market where the virus was first detected and the Centre of Disease Control in Wuhan was also verified by the WHO team even as cameras followed the investigators everywhere they went.

The evidence they relied on was given by Chinese officials. However, Beijing had turned the entire WHO probe into a charade. The WHO complied.

"The finding suggests that the laboratory incident hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus into the human population," Peter ben Embarek, WHO foreign team leader in joint China-WHO mission, said.

"We did not find evidence of large outbreaks that could be related to cases of COVID-19 prior to December '19 in Wuhan or elsewhere," Embarek remarked.

A few weeks later the WHO published a written report of the findings but failed to answer all questions.

The WHO had said it was possible virus jump directly from an animal to a human. It had also said the virus could have jumped from one animal to another and then to humans.

In fact, on the question of whether the virus spread from cold food supplies, again the WHO said it was possible.

The health body had left every hypothesis open. Only the lab leak theory was declared extremely unlikely. Now, findings shared by the US intelligence community have given a new life to the theory.

Their report claims that researchers at China's Wuhan Institute of Virology had fallen sick as early as November 2019. This disclosure comes amid the ongoing world health assembly but world leaders are not discussing the origins this year.

They are busy discussing reforms and the question of where the virus came from has been brushed aside.