WHO: A Study of SARS-CoV-2 Origins in China

In WHO-convened Global Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2: China Part released by the World Health Organization (WHO), SARS-CoV-2 surveillance data and virus cases reported in China are analyzed as far back as late 2019. Specifically, surveillance of morbidity due to pneumonia in and around Wuhan. Molecular sequence data suggests the outbreak may have started sometime between mid-November and early December 2019. By the third week of 2020, there is an indication that virus transmission was already widespread among the population by the first week of 2020.

Many early cases of SARS-CoV-2 were initially believed to have originated from the Huanan market through zoonotic spread, although it remains unclear as several early cases reported no link to the market or any other market in Wuhan. Zoonotic spread may still be a key contributing factor in the spread of the virus. Targeted studies have found bats and pangolins to contain the most highly related viruses to SARS-CoV-2, suggesting they may be the reservoir, although those viruses identified are not similar enough to serve as the progenitor. In addition, findings suggest the high susceptibility of mink and cats as possible virus reservoirs.  WHO, World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are working together to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and determine the route of introduction into the human population. Two phases of short-term studies have been created:

  • Phase 1: To better understand how the virus began to circulate in Wuhan by reviewing surveillance data among the Wuhan, Hubei province and neighboring provinces from 2016-2019.
  • Phase 2: To build on the findings and published scientific studies by identifying clusters of illness compatible with COVID-19 in the months preceding the December 2019 outbreak.

“The aim is to prevent both reinfection with the virus in animals and humans and the establishment of new zoonotic reservoirs, thereby reducing further risks of the emergence and transmission of zoonotic diseases.”


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