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what to remember from the World Health Organization report on the origin of the virus

A report without surprise. And without the risk of offending Beijing. The dozen international experts sent to China, in January, by the World Health Organization (WHO), released their investigation into the origins of Covid-19. They present on Tuesday March 30 in Geneva the details of their conclusions, which focus on the track of transmission of the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus to humans by an intermediate animal from a reservoir animal (probably the bat).

“Tall the hypotheses are on the table and deserve further and complete study “, has already made it knownhe Director-General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to whom this document was handed over. Clearly, the investigation has not solved the mystery of the origins of Covid-19. While 26 international researchers call, in Le Monde (subscribers article), to a new independent investigation, denouncing the “structural limitations” imposed on WHO experts during their visit to China, here is what to remember from this report, which AFP has obtained a copy of.

An intermediate animal has “probably” transmitted the virus

The report favors the generally accepted theory of the natural transmission of the virus from a reservoir animal (probably the bat) to humans, via another animal not yet identified. Among the suspects are the domestic cat, the rabbit or the badger-ferret. The report also does not exclude the responsibility of the mink, raised for its fur in China in multiple centers.

As for the pangolin, Chinese researchers were the first to put forward this hypothesis. But since then, scientists have ruled out this lead. “ONote that the rate of identity between the Sars-CoV-2 sequences and those from pangolin is only 90.3%, which is much lower than the rates usually observed between strains infecting humans and those infecting humans. the intermediate host “, explained the virologist Etienne Decroly in an interview with the CNRS newspaper in October 2020.

Direct transmission by bats is considered “possible”

In this report which multiplies the hypotheses, the direct transmission of the virus via the bat is also judged “possible” by the experts. The bat was identified early on as the animal that would probably have served as a reservoir for the virus. “A virus 96% identical to Sars-CoV-2 has been identified in bats captured in China. The bat is therefore most likely the reservoir of the virus.”, wrote the Institut Pasteur at the end of February 2020. The report points out that “Antibodies targeting bat coronavirus proteins have been found in humans who have had close contact with bats”.

The frozen meat hypothesis is “very weak” but not completely ruled out

Experts do not completely rule out the hypothesis of transmission through frozen meat. They judge this scenario “possible”, but its probability “very weak”, in the version of the report which AFP obtained a copy before official publication on March 30. “The probability of contamination of the cold chain by the virus from a [animal] tank is very low “, they write. Lhe hypothesis of an arrival of the virus in China via frozen food as early as 2019 would be “extraordinaire”, according to them, because the virus “then did not circulate on a large scale” in the world. If the study reports “some evidence of a possible reintroduction of [coronavirus dans le pays] through the handling of contaminated imported frozen products “, no element “conclusive” indicates that the pathogen may “transmitted through food”.

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Faced with Western criticism, in particular from the United States who accuse it of having mismanaged the beginnings of the crisis, China has been advancing the idea of ​​a foreign origin of Sars-CoV-2 since last year. Lthe Chinese press accredited it by widely reporting the detection by the health authorities of samples “positive” coronavirus on imported frozen food packaging. “The aim is probably to introduce enough doubt for people to question the origin of the virus”Adam Ni, director of the Australia-based research institute China Policy Center, told AFP.

The trail of a lab accident is swept away

Experts rule out on the other hand, the possibility of transmission to humans during a laboratory accident. Its have not studied the case of a voluntary flight and consider “extremely unlikely” an accident. “The risk of accidentally cultivating Sars-Cov-2 in the laboratory is extremely low”, they add. They note, however, that, “although rare, laboratory incidents can occur”.

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