Danish WHO researcher: Employee in laboratory may have been patient zero

Peter Embarek during the international press conference following the visit to Wuhan. Photo: Hector Retamal / Ritzau Scanpix

After researching the origin of covid-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) described in a report that the theory of a laboratory discharge was “extremely unlikely” but now Danish chief investigator says that patient zero may well have been a laboratory employee.

Since the pandemic shut down the world in early 2020, it has been unknown how it actually began and Peter Embarek was the leader of the team of WHO experts who went to China at the beginning of the year to investigate the origin of the disease. 

In an interview with media TV2, he says that the first outbreak of covid-19 in China in the fall of 2019 may well have been started by an employee at one of the city’s laboratories who has either been infected by a bat during fieldwork or at one of the laboratories in Wuhan.

The theory has been diligently aired outside China and although WHO’s conclusion said otherwise, Peter Embarek explains that he has that view today because the theory actually falls into one of the other likely categories.

“This is where the virus jumps directly from a bat to a human. In that case, it would then be a laboratory worker instead of a random villager or another person who has regular contact with bats. So it is actually in the probable category,” Peter Embarek says to TV 2.

Bats are central in the investigation because the closest known relative to the virus lives in bats of the species equine cones. None of that type of horseshoe bat lives outdoors in the Wuhan area, and the only people known to have been close to horseshoe bats are employees of the city’s laboratories.

In the interview, Peter Embarek emphasizes that WHO experts did not find any direct evidence that the covid-19 outbreak is related to the research on bats conducted in Wuhan’s laboratories but the experts did find several things that, according to Peter Embarek, should be investigated further.

So far, more than 200 million people worldwide have been infected with covid-19 and more than 4.3 million people have died after being infected with the virus.

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