New Evidence Shows COVID-19 May Have Emerged Outside of Wuhan
STR/AFP via Getty Staff at Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in February 2020
At a press conference on Tuesday, World Health Organization's Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, an expert on food safety and animal diseases, said that it was "extremely unlikely" that COVID-19 came from a lab in Wuhan, China, the city where the virus was first reported.
"Initial findings suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one that will require more studies and more specific targeted research," he said, according to NBC News.
Embarek also said that research thus far showed "a natural reservoir" in bats when it came to studying the origins of the virus, but that likely didn't happen in Wuhan, the BBC reports. He added that the rumor about the virus coming from a lab was "not in the hypotheses that we will suggest for future studies."
Also present at the conference was China National Health Commission expert Liang Wannian, who said early data points to the possibility that the virus had been spreading for weeks before the first case was actually diagnosed in Wuhan.
"This indicates the possibility of the missed reported circulation in other regions," Liang said, adding that there was also no evidence of the virus circulating in Wuhan before December 2019, when the first case was reported, according to NBC News.
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, WHO
RELATED: Journalist Who Raised Early Alarms About COVID-19, Documented Wuhan Outbreak Jailed for 4 Years
The BBC reports that officials said the virus could have spread to humans from animals, including bats and pangolins — and/or through imported frozen foods — but there is still research to be done in that arena.
Getty Firefighters prepare to conduct disinfection at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in April 2020
RELATED VIDEO: Why I'm Getting Vaccinated: Hoda Kotb, Al Roker and More Stars on Stopping the Spread of COVID-19
Why I’m Getting Vaccinated: Hota Kotb, Al Roker & More Stars on Stopping the Spread of COVID-19
Celebrities are opening up about the reasons why they are choosing to get vaccinated
USA Today reports that findings have come from WHO team members from 10 different countries who have spent several weeks in Wuhan in search of answers, from visiting a wildlife market linked to the outbreak, plus research facilities and hospitals.
Embarek said at Tuesday's conference that while he doesn't believe his team "change(d) dramatically the picture we had beforehand," they "improved(d) [their] understanding" and "add(ed) details to that picture."
As nations around the globe continue to strive to distribute vaccines, a faster-spreading COVID strain first found in the U.K. — the B.1.1.7 strain — is now moving rapidly through the U.S., a new study found, and will be the dominant strain "in a matter of weeks."
However, both Pfizer and Moderna have said that their vaccines are effective against the B.1.1.7 strain, and that they can manufacture a booster shot if needed.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.