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COVID-19 origin story

WHO-China draft report on COVID-19 origins says Wuhan lab leak 'extremely unlikely'

The report from the World Health Organization and China on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic will conclude that the most likely genesis of the new coronavirus was transmission to humans from bats through a second animal, The Associated Press reports, citing what appeared to be a near-final version obtained from an unidentified diplomat Monday. The least likely of the four hypotheses considered was an accidental leak of the virus from a lab in Wuhan, China, that studies coronaviruses in bats, the report found.

Direct transmission of the coronavirus to humans from bats is another likely possibility, though "the evolutionary distance between these bat viruses and SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be several decades, suggesting a missing link," the draft report says. Very similar viruses have been found in pangolins, the researchers noted, though cats and mink are also potential carriers. The third scenario, "cold-chain" transmission through food products, was deemed possible but unlikely.

The lab leak theory was judged "extremely unlikely," in the report. Dr. Robert Redfield, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN last week that in his opinion, the lab leak theory is the most likely, adding that "science will eventually figure it out."

The findings in the final draft are consistent with expectations, and Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO expert who led this year's research mission to Wuhan, said Friday he expected the final report to be released to the public in the next few days. "The report's release has been repeatedly delayed, raising questions about whether the Chinese side was trying to skew the conclusions to prevent blame for the pandemic falling on China," AP reports. Read more about the draft findings at The Associated Press.