After 12 days of field work in Wuhan, China, an international team of scientists assembled by the World Health Organization have wrapped up its investigation into the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that mushroomed out of the city in December of 2019.
The team’s findings support researchers’ previous leading hypothesis of how the pandemic began—that the virus used a still-elusive intermediate animal host as a bridge to infect humans from a distant reservoir host, such as horseshoe bats. But the team did fill in new, intriguing details of the pandemic’s first, crucial month—and ruled out sensational theories that the pandemic was born from a laboratory incident.
“Our initial findings suggest that the introduction [to humans] through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway,” Peter Ben Embarek, WHO International Team Lead, said in a 3-hour press conference on the team’s findings, livestreamed from Wuhan on February 9. Though researchers in China have already surveyed 11,000 animals around the country in search of that host, all have tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 so far, the team noted. Identifying the intermediary host “will require more studies and more specific, targeted research,” Embarek added.