It is “extremely unlikely” that SARS-CoV-2, responsible for COVID-19, escaped from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, a member of the police said on Monday. World Health Organization (WHO) mission to China to investigate the origin of the pandemic.
“The most politically sensitive option we considered was with the virus escaping from a laboratory,” Dominic Dwyer of the University of Sydney said in an article in online media The Conversation. “We concluded that this hypothesis was extremely unlikely.”
The Wuhan Institute of Virology “is an impressive research center and appears to be well run, taking due account of the health of its staff,” he said. Prof Dwyer said he learned that blood samples from scientists working there were regularly taken and stored. However, “no indication of antibodies to the coronavirus has been found”.
According to him, a group of clinical epidemiologists within the team examined a large body of data and information on this topic and “found no clear evidence of the substantial circulation of COVID-19 in Wuhan in the during the last part of 2019 before the appearance of the first case “.
“We spoke to our Chinese counterparts – scientists, epidemiologists, doctors – during the four weeks of the WHO mission in China. We were in meetings with them for up to 15 hours a day. So we became colleagues, even friends, “said Professor Dwyer. “It allowed us to build respect and trust in a way that would be difficult to establish through Zoom or email,” he noted.
The Australian expert ruled that the virus was most likely of animal origin, but not necessarily from a fresh produce market in Wuhan. “It is likely passed to humans from a bat, via an as yet unknown intermediate animal in an unknown location,” he said, adding that experts “were still working to confirm the exact chain of events that led to the current pandemic “.
Dominic Dwyer said the WHO mission was only the first phase of the investigation. “Investigators will also be looking for more data to establish evidence that the virus was circulating in Europe, for example, earlier in 2019,” he noted.
They “will continue to test wildlife and other animals in the region for signs of the virus,” the expert said. “And we will continue to learn from our experiences to improve the way we investigate the next pandemic.”