The results were largely in line with expectations and left many questions unanswered. The team offered additional research in all areas except the laboratory leak hypothesis.
The report’s release has been repeatedly delayed, raising questions as to whether the Chinese side is trying to skew the findings to prevent blame for the pandemic from falling on China. A World Health Organization official said late last week he expected it to be ready for release “in the next few days.”
The PA received what appeared to be an almost final version on Monday from a Geneva-based diplomat and a WHO member country. It was not clear if the report could still be edited before it was released. The diplomat did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to publish it before it was published.
The researchers listed four scenarios in order of probability. They concluded that transmission from a second animal was most likely very likely. They assessed direct spread from bats to humans as likely, and said spread through “cold chain” food products was possible but unlikely.
The closest relative of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in bats, which are known to carry coronavirus. However, the report states that “the evolutionary distance between these bat viruses and SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be several decades, suggesting a missing link.”
He said very similar viruses have been found in pangolins, but also noted that mink and cats are susceptible to the COVID virus, which suggests they could be carriers.
The report is largely based on a visit by a team of international WHO experts to Wuhan, the Chinese city where COVID-19 was first detected, from mid-January to mid-February .
Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO expert who led the Wuhan mission, said on Friday that the report had been finalized and was being verified and translated.
“I hope that in the next few days this whole process will be completed and we can publish it publicly,” he said.