Evolutionary virologist once open to Wuhan lab leak theory now says COVID spread from animal market

Huanan seafood market in Wuhan
(Image credit: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images)

Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist who signed a high-profile letter in May urging further study of the theory that the COVID-19 coronavirus accidently leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, reported in the journal Science on Thursday that new research strongly suggests the new virus spread to humans from animals at the Huanan Seafood Market, several miles from the lab. His reconstruction of the early days of the pandemic adds to mounting evidence that the coronavirus originated in bats and infected humans through an intermediary mammal, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Worobey, a leading expert in tracking the evolution of viruses, pored through all available records and found that 10 of 19 early COVID-19 patients worked at or had visited the Huanan market, around the area where raccoon dogs were slaughtered. His research determined that a World Health Organization report incorrectly identified a 41-year-old accountant who had not been near the market as the earliest known case. Instead, the first confirmed patients was a female seafood vendor who became symptomatic on Dec. 11.

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Peter Weber, The Week US

Peter has worked as a news and culture writer and editor at The Week since the site's launch in 2008. He covers politics, world affairs, religion and cultural currents. His journalism career began as a copy editor at a financial newswire and has included editorial positions at The New York Times Magazine, Facts on File, and Oregon State University.