Wuhan Lab Worker Bat Infection a Probable COVID Origin Theory—WHO Official

COVID potentially started when a Wuhan laboratory researcher got infected by a bat, according to World Health Organization (WHO) official Peter Embarek.

Embarek, who led the WHO's COVID origins investigation mission to China earlier this year, has now told Danish news broadcaster TV 2 that the bat infection scenario is a probable theory.

Embarek said: "An employee who was infected in the field by taking samples falls under one of the probable hypotheses."

However, he added that WHO experts could find no direct evidence to support the theory that the pandemic stemmed from Wuhan bat research.

The so-called lab leak theory in regards to the origins of the COVID pandemic has been a controversial subject for several months, causing tensions on the international stage.

In the WHO's initial report, the scenario of COVID being introduced via a laboratory incident was labeled "extremely unlikely."

However, Embarek told TV 2 that while investigators were able to get access to laboratories in Wuhan, China, and have their questions answered, "we did not get to look at any documentation at all."

The WHO official added that while the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) has received a lot of attention in regards to origin theories, another lab, run by the Chinese health authorities, is also worth looking at.

Embarek said he had been told by management there that the lab had changed premises in early December 2019—around the time COVID was first detected. He said it would be "interesting to look at that period and this laboratory" at some point.

Other hypotheses for the origins of COVID put forward by the WHO team earlier this year were direct transmission from animals to humans; transmission from animals to other animals and then to humans, known as introduction through an intermediate host; and introduction through the cold food chain. Introduction through an intermediate host was deemed most likely.

That initial report has proved contentious since its publication, with national representatives across the globe expressing concern about how thorough the report was.

In a joint statement from March 30, the governments of the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, Japan, Israel and other nations wrote of "our shared concerns that the international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples."

Further investigations into the origin of the COVID pandemic, including one by the Biden administration, are currently underway.

Embarek has previously defended the WHO's initial report, stating in an interview with Science magazine that his team had "long meetings" with Wuhan lab staff who explained their audit systems and efforts to address claims of a lab accident theory.

He said the discussions "gave us much more confidence in our assessment," but added: "The fact that we assessed this hypothesis as extremely unlikely doesn't mean it's ruled out."

Bat flying in cave
A stock photo shows a bat flying in a cave. COVID is suspected to have been harboured by the animals. JAH/Getty