Chinese and WHO experts have completed their work in Wuhan as part of the global scientific research on the origin of the novel coronavirus, a National Health Commission official said at a press conference in Wuhan on Tuesday.
Liang Wannian, a member of the WHO-China joint team studying the origins of the novel coronavirus, said that in retrospect, the first COVID-19 case in Wuhan had no relation to the Huanan seafood market.
“We can’t say it was the starting point of the epidemic,” he said.
The market drew considerable attention after an early cluster of cases was traced to people working in the market.
Peter Ben Embarek, a member of the WHO-China joint team, also said the exact role of the Huanan seafood market was unclear.
Embarek noted that while the market was probably a setting where the virus could have easily spread, this is “not the whole story.”
“There was also spread among individuals that were not linked to the market,” he said, adding that some cases were linked to other markets while some had no links to any markets whatsoever.
Meanwhile, Embarek also said that a laboratory incident is “extremely unlikely” to be the cause of COVID-19.
Experts from the team identified four hypotheses for the source of the transmission of the novel coronavirus to the human population, including direct zoonotic spillover, an intermediary host species, the food chain, and a laboratory-related incident, said Embarek.
Initial findings suggest that introduction through an intermediary host species is “the most likely” passway and one that will require further study and more specific targeted research, he said.
“For us, it was important to develop a system to evaluate all these hypotheses where we could take a rational approach and look at facts and evidence in a rational way,” he added.
Produced by Xinhua Global Service