Washington: The World Health Organization’s chief said a mission to study the origins of the coronavirus in China didn’t adequately analyze the possibility of a lab leak before it concluded that the pathogen probably spread from bats to humans via another animal.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said even though the international team of scientists determined that a leak is the least likely hypothesis for the origin of the pandemic, it requires further investigation. He said he’s ready to deploy additional missions involving specialist experts as he doesn’t believe the assessment was extensive enough. He made the comments in a briefing to WHO member countries Tuesday.
Although Tedros has consistently said all options remain on the table and the WHO wouldn’t shut down any lines of inquiry, Tuesday’s comments mark the first time he’s openly speculated about the possibility of a leak. The WHO chief was criticized by Trump administration officials for being too deferential to China in the early days of the pandemic.
The origin report was published Tuesday, confirming what researchers said in mid-February at the conclusion of their four-week mission to Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the first Covid cases emerged at the end of 2019, and in subsequent interviews.
Tedros said he would expect future studies to involve quicker and better data-sharing in some of his most pointed comments directed against China. The country has pushed back firmly against any suggestions of a leak from a high-security virus lab in Wuhan, a theory advanced by Robert Redfield, who led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the first year of the pandemic.
“To understand the earliest cases, scientists would benefit from full access to data, including biological samples from at least September 2019,” Tedros said. “We have not yet found the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and leave no stone unturned.”
The mission was organized jointly by the WHO and China.
The U.S. has “real concerns about the methodology and the process” of the report, including that the Chinese government “apparently helped to write it,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this week on CNN.- Bloomberg