The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the coronavirus was most likely not engineered by humans, but did not address the possibility that the virus could have been released from a lab.
“All available evidence suggests the virus has an animal origin and is not manipulated or constructed in a lab or somewhere else,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said at a press conference in Geneva. “It is probable, likely, that the virus is of animal origin.”
Chaib added, “It most likely has its ecological reservoir in bats but how the virus came from bats to humans is still to be seen and discovered.” Chaib did not respond when asked whether the coronavirus may have escaped from a lab.
The WHO has publicly stated that the coronavirus has been traced to a wet market in the city of Wuhan. However, the specific market cited by the WHO and China is a seafood market that does not sell bats.
About twelve kilometers from the market sits the Wuhan Institute of Virology. In a series of diplomatic cables from January 2018, U.S. officials warned that the institute studied “SARS-like coronaviruses in bats,” and that serious safety issues at the institute could result in a “future emerging coronavirus outbreak.”
“The new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” one cable reads.
President Trump has halted U.S. funding to the WHO, accusing the agency of “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”