A joint World Health Organisation (WHO) and Chinese expert mission stated on Tuesday that there is not enough evidence indicating that coronavirus was spreading in China's central Wuhan before December 2019. The joint mission has been investigating the origins of COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China.
"There is no indication of the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 in the population of the period before Dec 2019," said Head of the Chinese team Liang Wannian at a press briefing, adding that there was "not enough evidence" which indicated that COVID-19 spread in Wuhan prior to that.
Ben Embarek, head of the WHO mission, added that the objective of their study is to determine whether the coronavirus had 'previous history' and was spreading earlier than December 2019. WHO experts have also termed the theory that COVID-19 originated from a laboratory in Wuhan as "extremely unlikely".
"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 added that their mission to China to unearth the origins of the coronavirus had failed to identify the animal from which the virus was first transferred. Experts believe that the coronavirus originated in bats and could have spread to human beings via some other mammal.
Even though transmission from animals was possibly the route the virus took, so far "the reservoir hosts remain to be identified", Wannian said.
Wannian added that studies have shown that the virus "can be carried long-distance on cold chain products". This alludes to the theory that the virus was imported to China. This theory has been floating around in China for the past few months.
The WHO team had arrived in Wuhan on January 14 and after two weeks of quarantine, the team visited key sites like the Huanan seafood market as well as the Wuhan Institute of Virology.