A team of WHO health experts tasked with investigating the origin of COVID-19 in Wuhan stated that it is "extremely unlikely" the virus originated in a lab, a CNBC report explains.
In doing so, they refuted a widely spread conspiracy theory that states the virus was leaked by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a center known for studying coronaviruses originating in bats.
During a press conference held in the city of Wuhan, the team of experts said that more work is needed to identify the source of the virus, which the scientific community largely believes to have originated in animals.
The press event comes after the WHO and China Health Commission scientists spent the past four weeks searching for clues regarding the origins of COVID-19.
The investigators visited hospitals, laboratories, and markets, including the Huanan Seafood Market which was at the center of initial reports regarding the virus.
The investigation points to 'natural reservoir'
As coronaviruses are known to circulate in bats before spreading to humans — often via an intermediary host animal — experts believe that the virus is likely to have originated in animals, though scientists are yet to find conclusive evidence directly linking animals to COVID-19 — finding such evidence will be the focus of investigations going forward.
Speaking at the event, Peter Ben Embarek, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) investigation, said the investigation has uncovered new information though it has not drastically changed the outlook on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Embark explained that the investigation — a collaboration between the WHO and China — points to a "natural reservoir" in bats. At the press conference, the team of experts also said there was "no indication" the virus was circulating in Wuhan before the first official cases were recorded.
Liang Wannian, an expert with China's Health Commission, stated that it is possible COVID-19 was in other regions before being detected in Wuhan. Dr. Embark corroborated this statement by saying the virus likely originated in animals outside of the city of Wuhan.
The virus was first detected in the city of Wuhan, in China's western Hubei province, in December 2019. Since that time, more than 106 million cases have been reported worldwide as well as 2.3 million deaths. Investigations continue into the origins of COVID-19 in the hope of helping humanity prevent future pandemics.