Leaked WHO Report Says Animal Transmission Is the Most Likely Source of COVID Pandemic: Reports

Highly-anticipated findings from the World Health Organization reportedly say that transmission from animals to humans is the most likely origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a leaked report obtained by both the Associated Press and The New York Times, the top theory is that the virus was transmitted from bats through another animal. (A previous study published over the summer also pointed to bats as a potential source.)

Although bats have been known to carry coronaviruses — one type of horseshoe bat was determined to be the source of the 2004 SARS outbreak — the report says that "the evolutionary distance between these bat viruses and (COVID-19) is estimated to be several decades, suggesting a missing link," according to the AP.

Still, researchers determined that a "direct spread from bats to humans" is "likely," and that "spread to humans from the packaging of 'cold-chain' food products was possible but not likely."

Another theory examined in the report, which researchers dismissed as "extremely unlikely," was that the virus could have been leaked from a Chinese laboratory — a widely-disputed claim, which was promoted by former President Donald Trump without evidence. 

Researchers recommend that every theory, with the exception of the lab leak, be further studied. As noted by the AP, it can take years to determine the exact origin of virus outbreaks. 

The report is expected to be released on Tuesday. 

The report was written by a group of scientists from WHO following a 27-day trip earlier this year to Wuhan, China, where the first cases of the virus were reported.

During the visit, Chinese officials refused to share some information about early cases, which has led some officials to express their concerns about the findings of the report, according to the Times.

"We've got real concerns about the methodology and the process that went into that report, including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a recent interview with CNN.

"I think the issue for us is to make sure that we do everything possible to prevent another pandemic even as we're working through this one, or at the very least to make sure that we can mitigate in much more effective ways any damage done if something happens in the future," he added.

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Chinese officials recently dismissed concerns about the findings, saying that they have been cooperating with the WHO. 

"Our purpose is to show our openness and transparency," Yang Tao, a Foreign Ministry official, said during a briefing last week, according to the AP. "China fought the epidemic in a transparent manner and has nothing to hide."

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