The World Health Organization team in the Chinese city of Wuhan says viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 can be found in many animals, but they have been unable to find direct evidence of animal-human transmission.
The team, along with Chinese experts and counterparts, held a press conference to announce the conclusion into their fact-finding mission into the origins of COVID-19 in the central Chinese city where the outbreak was discovered in late 2019.
The head of the WHO team said its investigation had uncovered new information but had not dramatically changed the picture of the outbreak.
Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO virus expert, told the press conference that work to identify the origins of the coronavirus points to a natural reservoir in bats, but it is unlikely that they were in Wuhan.
China’s head of the COVID-19 expert panel, Liang Wannian, said it believed that the disease may have originated from a zoonotic transmission, or from animals to humans, which then evolved.
However, he said the reservoir host has yet to be identified.
While bats and pangolins could possibly be the reservoir due to high similarities of genetic sequences, there was no evidence to suggest their coronavirus had a direct link to COVID-19, he said.
“Coronaviruses that are genetically related with SARS-CoV-2 have been identified in different animals including horses … bats and pangolins,” he said, referring to the virus which causes COVID-19.
“Sampling of bats in Hubei province, however, has failed to find evidence of SARS-CoV-2 in native viruses, and sampling of wildlife in different places in China has so far failed to identify the presence of SARS-CoV-2.”
Dr Liang said the susceptibility of felines such as minks or cats to the virus could also mean that they can act as a potential reservoir, however there is not enough sample size and it is still currently being investigated.