By JOHN RICHARD SCHROCK
The World Health Organization report on their investigation into the origin of COVID-19 released last week is relatively long at 300 pages. It is written by 34 scientists from Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom and China who assessed data in Wuhan in late January and February. A short and scientifically accurate summary of its findings is more accessible in the March 30 issue of the premier science journal Nature.
The WHO investigation “winnowed out alternative hypotheses on when and where the pandemic arose, concluding that the virus probably didn’t spread widely before December  or escape from a laboratory.”
According to WHO’s Peter Ben Embarek, co-leader of the investigation: “We could show the virus was circulating in the market as early as December 2019.” University of Sydney (Australia) virologist Eddie Holmes, likewise found the report lays out what can be known and stated “To me, looking at live-animal markets and animal farming should be the focus going forward.”
Much of the WHO report focused on cases occurring in December 2019 and January 2020. “Two-thirds of the 170-odd people who had symptoms in December reported having been exposed to live or dead animals shortly beforehand, and 10% had travelled outside Wuhan.”
By sequencing the SARS-CoV-2 genomes from some early patients, eight of the early sequences were identical. We now know there are ongoing gradual changes in the genome, so this indicates the virus very recently jumped to humans. We also now know that many persons are asymptomatic. That there were few genome variations indicated that the virus could only have been spreading under the radar for a short time.
The Nature summary reported that “Chinese researchers collected nearly 1,000 samples from the Huanan market in early 2020, swabbing doors, rubbish bins, toilets, stalls that sold vegetables and animals, stray cats and mice. The majority that tested positive were from stalls that sold seafood, livestock and poultry.”
Peter Daszak, also a WHO team member as well as head of the EcoHealth Alliance in New York City, stated: “A thousand samples is a great start, but there’s more to do.” He noted that researchers “traced farmed animals at the market back to three provinces in China where pangolins and bats carrying coronaviruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 had been found.” Those viruses were more distant from the pandemic virus, but “might provide a clue.”
To answer whether COVID-19 was spreading before December 2019, “...the report authors looked at analyses of SARS-CoV-2 sequences collected from people in January 2020, and estimated that they evolved from a common ancestor between mid-November and early December of 2019.” This also matched the steep increase in deaths in Wuhan beginning in mid-January 2020.
The WHO was also aware of reports of SARS-CoV-2 in Italy and Brazil in October and November 2019. The WHO report found “these studies inconclusive because they were based on partial sequences of SARS-CoV-2, and therefore could be a case of mistaken viral identity.”
The WHO team investigated the Wuhan virology institute. All scientists working there had been tested and none had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. That rules out someone becoming infected in an experiment and spreading it to others. The Nature summary states: “We were allowed to ask whatever questions we wanted, and we got answers,” says Daszak. “The only evidence that people have for a lab leak is that there is a lab in Wuhan.”
Many of you are reading these WHO conclusions for the first time for a simple reason. Across the Western world, counter-stories and misinformation were already being written and distributed by politicians who have opposing political interests and see an advantage to promoting a falsehood. They ignore the evidence in the WHO report. Indeed there is no indication that they ever read the report—because they speak to absolutely no details in the report.
There is more research to be done into the origin of this virus. But it has nothing to do with the Wuhan lab.
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John Richard Schrock has trained biology teachers for more than 30 years in Kansas. He also has lectured at 27 universities in 20 trips to China. He holds the distinction of “Faculty Emeritus” at Emporia State University.