Coronavirus likely from animal origin, no sign lab involved: WHO , Latest World News - The New Paper

Coronavirus likely from animal origin, no sign lab involved: WHO

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No sign of lab manipulation, agency says, reiterating it likely originated from bats

GENEVA : The World Health Organisation (WHO) said yesterday all available evidence suggests Covid-19 originated in animals in China late last year and was not manipulated or produced in a laboratory.

US President Donald Trump said last week his government was trying to determine whether the virus emanated from a lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus pandemic emerged in December.

"All available evidence suggests the virus has an animal origin and is not manipulated or constructed in a lab or somewhere else," WHO spokesman Fadela Chaib told a Geneva news briefing. "It is probable, likely, that the virus is of animal origin."

It was not clear, Ms Chaib added, how the virus had jumped the species barrier to humans, but there had "certainly" been an intermediate animal host.

"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."

She did not respond to a request to elaborate on whether it was possible the virus may have inadvertently escaped from a lab.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology has dismissed rumours both that it synthesised the virus or allowed it to escape.

Ms Chaib, asked about the impact of Mr Trump's decision last week to suspend funding to the UN agency over its handling of the pandemic, said: "We are still assessing the situation about the announcement by President Trump... (and we will) work with our partners to fill any gaps."

"It is very important to continue what we are doing not only for Covid, but for many, many, many, many other health programmes," she added, referring to action against polio, HIV and malaria, among other diseases.

She said WHO was 81 per cent funded for the next two years as of the end of last month, referring to its US$4.8 billion (S$6.9 billion) biennial budget.

The US is the Geneva-based agency's biggest donor. Other big contributors are the Gates Foundation and Britain.

WHO also warned that any lifting of lockdowns to contain the spread of the coronavirus must be gradual, and if restrictions were to be relaxed too soon, there would be a resurgence of infections.

Lockdown measures have proved effective, and people must be ready for a new way of living to allow society to function while the virus is being kept in check, said Dr Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific.

"We must adapt our lives and health systems along with the epidemic," Dr Kasai told an online press conference.

"At least until a vaccine, or a very effective treatment is found, this process will need to become our new normal."

Governments considering lifting lockdown measures should do so carefully and in stages, and continue to monitor the epidemic situation, he said.

So long as the coronavirus is circulating, no country is safe from a potentially overwhelming outbreak, he added.

"Individuals and society need to be ready for a new way of living." - REUTERS