29 Mar 2021: WHO says COVID-19 likely emerged from animals; lab leak unlikely
The coronavirus causing COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, likely originated from animals, a draft copy of a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) into the origin of the virus reportedly said.
The report said the theory that a lab leak causing the pandemic is "extremely unlikely."
Meanwhile, the United States government has expressed concern that the Chinese government had a hand in writing the report.
Details: Final report expected in coming days
The Associated Press accessed a near-final version from a Geneva-based diplomat from a WHO-member country.
The report said that it was not clear whether the report might be changed before its release.
Peter Ben Embarek—the WHO expert who led the Wuhan mission—said the report had been finalized and was being fact-checked and translated. It is expected in the next few days.
Report: Direct spread from bats to humans likely
According to the report, direct spread from bats to humans is likely, and spread through "cold-chain" food products was possible but not likely.
The closest relative of the virus that causes COVID-19 was found in bats, however, the report said that the "evolutionary distance between these bat viruses and SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be several decades, suggesting a missing link."
Fact: Pangolins, minks, cats could be possible carriers: Report
Further, the report said highly similar viruses have been found in pangolins, but also noted that mink and cats are susceptible to the COVID-19 virus, suggesting that they could be carriers. Reportedly, the team proposed further research in every area except the lab leak hypothesis.
US: US had 'real concerns about methodology, process' of report
The US has "real concerns about the methodology and the process" of the report, including that the Chinese government "apparently helped to write it," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on CNN on Sunday.
Last week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had also expressed concern about a lack of transparency in the report. She had also reiterated a call for an international investigation.
Fact: In February, US NSA questioned Chinese transparency
Earlier in February, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had said, "We do not believe that China has made available sufficient original data into how this pandemic began to spread both in China and then eventually around the world."