Many origins were suggested for the COVID-19 coronavirus in the last year. Some thought bats and pangolins were to blame, while others wondered if frozen food contained more than just excess calories. Many in the public even suspected that — intentionally or not — a laboratory under China's government unleashed the deadly virus on the world.
But suspicions of foul play were misguided at best, according to the World Health Organization.
The COVID-19 coronavirus probably came from animals, and likely started spreading no more than one or two months before the public took notice in December 2019, according to a recent Tuesday report from the World Health Organization's official website.
"All available evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 has a natural animal origin and is not a manipulated or constructed virus," read the report.
The likelihood of COVID-19 coming from a lab is 'extremely unlikely'
The World Health Organization (WHO) shared its final report on its investigation into the coronavirus' origin — which found no suggestion of a "smoking gun" or evidence supporting the idea that it came any earlier than late 2019. The report offers four possible sources for the COVID-19 virus, and the most likely one involves an intermediate animal host, like a wild animal captured and raised on a farm.
However, investigations didn't determine the identity of what other animal — infected by a bat — likely transmitted the coronavirus to humans for the first time. "The possible intermediate host of SARS-CoV-2 remains elusive," read the report.
Next on the list of probable origins for the COVID-19 pandemic was a direct transmission from an animal known to carry a similar coronavirus — like the bat or a pangolin. The virus may also have found a means of transmission in frozen or chilled food, but while this is less likely, it's also far more likely than an accidental bio-laboratory release, according to the WHO report.
The likelihood that the coronavirus came from a lab is "extremely unlikely," read the WHO's report. "There is no record of viruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 in any laboratory before December 2019, or genomes that in combination could provide a SARS-CoV-2 genome."
The WHO's attitude toward the lab theory has been reflected by independent researchers for months. Testing of the coronavirus on a genomic level suggested it wasn't engineered in a lab, but was passed between animals by natural processes alone — just like the SARS virus that infected 8,000 people worldwide from 2002 to 2004.
WHO emphasized a need for more blood sample testing
Frozen food is probably fine, said the report. "There is no conclusive evidence for foodborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and the probability of a cold-chain contamination with the virus from a reservoir is very low," stated the report from the WHO.
Many of the early COVID-19 cases were linked to the Huanan market in Wuhan, China — but other markets saw similar numbers of cases, while still more had no links to any markets whatsoever, said the report. "Transmission within the wider community in December could account for cases not associated with the Huanan market which, together with the presence of early cases not associated with that market, could suggest that the Huanan market was not the original source of the outbreak."
The study was a joint process "conducted over a 28-day period from 14 January to 10 February 2021 in the city of Wuhan, People's Republic of China," read the report. But, while we can finally lay the lab theory to rest, the report also emphasized a need for more testing of blood samples taken and stored before the initial December 2019 outbreak, in addition to more animal testing from Southeast Asia, and in-depth analyses of mass gatherings potentially responsible for aiding the spread of the COVID-19 virus.