Ending the year-long speculations over the origins of COVID-19, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday said that the infection transmitted to humans from bats via another animal.
The final report of an worldwide expert mission to the Chinese city where the first Covid-19 outbreak happened in late 2019 says the coronavirus causing the disease most likely had a zoonotic origin, according to news agencies citing leaked copies of the report.
Peter Ben Embarek of the World Health Organization team holds up a chart showing pathways of transmission of the virus during a joint press conference held at the end of the WHO mission in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on February 9, 2021.
The draft report is inconclusive on whether the outbreak started at a Wuhan seafood market that had one of the earliest clusters of cases in December 2019. The WHO has said the results of the mission to Wuhan, which concluded more than six weeks ago, would be ready in a few days.
Last week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry gave a briefing to diplomats on the main findings of WHO's research in anticipation of the release of the report.
The researchers listed four scenarios in order of likelihood for the emergence of the virus named SARS-CoV-2.
"The scenario including introduction through an intermediary host was considered to be likely to very likely", it said, although it did not conclude which animal may have first allowed the virus to jump to humans.
The idea of a lab leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology is a hypothesis that was also promoted by former United States president Donald Trump's administration.
The report meanwhile did not rule out transmission through frozen food - Beijing's favored theory - since the virus appears to be able survive at freezing temperatures, saying that "introduction via cold/ food chain products is considered possible".
However, the report says that 'the evolutionary distance between these bat viruses and SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be several decades, suggesting a missing link'.
Peter Ben Embarek, the World Health Organization expert who led the Wuhan mission, said Friday that the report had been finalised and was being fact-checked and translated.
During a lengthy press conference in Wuhan on 9 February at the end of the mission, the experts and their Chinese counterparts made clear that they could not yet draw any firm conclusions.
The expert team of 10 global investigators, 17 Chinese counterparts and 10 members of other agencies spent four weeks in China in January and February.
The closest relative of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in bats, which are known to carry coronaviruses.