The two reports, totaling about 150 pages, have not yet been published in a scientific journal.
The researchers analyzed data from a range of sources to uncover how the virus first took hold. They concluded that the coronavirus was present in live mammals sold in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in late 2019.
Even in the early days of the pandemic, speculation — and plenty of cultural insensitivity and racism — emerged suggesting that Chinese “wet markets” were a probable source of origin. The markets offer wild animals — endangered species in some cases and sometimes sold live — as cuisine.
The new research suggests that the virus was spread to people working or shopping at the market. And the researchers said they found no support for an alternate hypothesis that the coronavirus emerged from a lab in Wuhan.
U.S. President Joe Biden had ordered that intelligence agencies probe how the virus emerged. Biden said that U.S. intelligence focused on two scenarios—whether the coronavirus came from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.
Interaction between humans and animals, often forced because of lost biodiversity on top of market sales, is neither exclusive to this outbreak nor likely to become less controversial absent intervention in coming years, environmentalists have warned since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most scientists see a link between deforestation and habitat change to pandemics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.
From Zika to West Nile, Ebola to SARS, Nipah to COVID-19, deforestation has had a hand in many of the world’s worst viral outbreaks as lost habitat brings animals in closer contact with humans.
“Due to anthropogenic activities, we are substantially increasing our exposure to pathogens we have never been exposed to, and thus we’re not prepared to respond to. We’re doing this in two main ways: bringing wildlife too close to us [such as markets], or us getting too close to wildlife [by way of overdevelopment],” Daniel Mira-Salama, senior environmental specialist in the World Bank’s Beijing office, has said.