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Home / News / World /  No indication of Covid in Wuhan before Dec 2019, lab leak virus theory 'extremely unlikely': WHO - key updates

There is insufficient evidence to determine that coronavirus was being spread in China's central Wuhan before December 2019, a joint World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese expert mission into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic in Wuhan said on Tuesday.

"There is no indication of the transmission of the Sars-Cov-2 in the population of the period before Dec 2019," said Liang Wannian, head of the China team, at a press briefing, adding that there was "not enough evidence" to determine if the virus had spread in the city prior to that.

Addressing the press meet, Ben Embarek, head of the WHO mission, said that the focus of the study is whether coronavirus had 'previous history' and was circulating earlier than December 2019.

Experts from the WHO has also eliminated a controversial theory that Covid-19 came from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

"The laboratory incident hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus into the human population," said Embarek. "Therefore is not in the hypotheses that we will suggest for future studies."

The WHO scientists also said that the global health body's mission to China to uncover the origins of the coronavirus has failed to identify the animal source.

Experts believe the disease -- which has gone on to kill more than 2.3 million people worldwide -- originated in bats and could have been transmitted to humans via another mammal.

While transmission from animals was the likely route, so far "the reservoir hosts remain to be identified", Liang Wannian said.

He added that studies showed the virus "can be carried long-distance on cold chain products," appearing to nudge towards the possible importation of the virus -- a theory that has abounded in China in recent months.

Wannian has also said that the virus that causes Covid-19 could have been circulating in other regions before it was identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of 2019.

Former US President Donald Trump repeated a controversial theory that a lab leak may have been the source of the pandemic.

The WHO team arrived in Wuhan on 14 January and after two weeks of quarantine, visited key sites like the Huanan seafood market, the location of the first known cluster of infections, as well as the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has been involved in coronavirus research.

During the closely-monitored visit, reporters were largely kept at arms' length from the experts, but snippets of their findings crept out over Twitter and interviews.

WHO's mission is a diplomatically knotty one, which was trailed before it began by fears of a whitewash, with the US demanding a "robust" probe and China firing back with a warning not to "politicise" the investigation.

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