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China urges tracing COVID-19 origin in multiple countries

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What was done in the first stage of origin tracing, especially by those that have reached a clear conclusion, should not be repeated, said Deputy Head of the NHC Zeng Yixin. Zeng made the remarks at a press conference on the novel coronavirus origin-tracing work held by the State Council Information Office in Beijing.

What should be carried out is the origin tracing of early cases, molecular epidemiology, and intermediary hosts in multiple countries and regions based on extensive consultations among WHO member states, Zeng said.

According to an agreement between China and the WHO in July 2020, a WHO team comprising international experts arrived in Wuhan on Jan. 14. They formed a joint body with Chinese experts for the Chinese part of the global study on the origins of the novel coronavirus, he said.

The team studied a massive amount of epidemic-related data and visited nine facilities, including Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, Huanan seafood market, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The team conducted extensive exchanges with local medical workers, lab researchers, scientists, and market managers. They also interviewed social workers, community workers, residents, and patients who had recovered, Zeng said.

Among the outcomes of the joint study, a coronavirus highly similar to the novel coronavirus in gene sequences was found in bats and pangolins. But the similarity is not enough to make it a direct ancestor of the novel coronavirus.

The experts identified four hypotheses for the source of transmission of the novel coronavirus to the human population, including a direct zoonotic spillover, cold-chain food, an intermediary host species, and a laboratory-related incident.

The joint study said that a laboratory incident is “extremely unlikely” as the cause of COVID-19.

It said introduction through an intermediary host species is “the most likely” passway.

If any country needs further study on laboratory-related sources, Chinese experts suggest going to nations with labs similar to the one in Wuhan, which haven’t been investigated. This way, they could learn more about possible leakage problems, said Liang Wannian, the team leader from the Chinese side of the group.


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