World Health Organization expert Peter Ben Embarek claims the COVID-19 outbreak probably jumped to humans via an intermediary species.

WUHAN, Hubei — A World Health Organization expert says the coronavirus is unlikely to have leaked from a Chinese lab and most probably jumped to humans via an intermediary species.

WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Peter Ben Embarek made the assessment in a summation of a WHO team’s investigation into the possible origins of the coronavirus in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the first cases were discovered in December 2019.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology has collected extensive virus samples, leading to unproven allegations that it may have caused the original outbreak by leaking the virus into the surrounding community. China has strongly denied that possibility and has promoted unproven theories that the virus may have originated elsewhere.

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Along with the institute, the WHO team that includes experts from 10 nations has visited hospitals, research institutes, a traditional market tied to the outbreak and other sites.

The visit by the WHO team took months to negotiate after China only agreed to it amid massive international pressure at the World Health Assembly meeting last May, and Beijing has continued to deny calls for a strictly independent investigation.

Chinese authorities have kept a tight hold on information about the possible causes of the pandemic that has now sickened more than 105 million people and killed more than 2.2 million worldwide.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The United States has more than 27 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

As of Tuesday morning, the U.S. had more than 465,000 deaths from the virus.

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