The World Health Organisation head recently acknowledged that it was premature to rule out a possible connection between the coronavirus pandemic and a laboratory leak. On Thursday he said that he is asking China to be clearer as scientists search for the origins of the COVID-19.
Getting access to raw data had been a challenge for the international team that traveled to China earlier this year to investigate the source of COVID-19 said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a rare departure from his usual deference to powerful member countries.
The first human cases were identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Tedros told reporters that the UN health agency based in Geneva is “asking actually China to be transparent, open and cooperate, especially on the information, raw data that we asked for at the early days of the pandemic”.
He said there had been a “premature push” to rule out the theory that the virus might have escaped from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan – undermining WHO’s own March report, which concluded that a laboratory leak was “extremely unlikely.”
“I was a lab technician myself, I’m an immunologist, and I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen,” Tedros said.
In the recent months, the idea that the pandemic started somehow in a laboratory and perhaps involved an engineered virus that has gained traction, especially with President Joe Biden ordering a review of US intelligence to assess the possibility in May.
The arguments on the origins of COVID-19 its possible link to a lab were politically motivated and suggesting that the virus might have started abroad.
China at a WHO’s annual meeting of health ministers in the spring said, that the future search for COVID-19’s origins should continue — in other countries.
However, the scientists are suspecting that the coronavirus originated in bats but the exact way by which it first jumped into people was via an intermediary animal or in some other way that has not been determined yet. To understand the natural source of an animal virus like Ebola or SARS, it takes decades.
Tedros said that “checking what happened, especially in our labs, is important” to nailing down if the pandemic had any laboratory links.
“We need information, direct information on what the situation of this lab was before and at the start of the pandemic,” the WHO chief said, adding that China’s cooperation was critical.
“If we get full information, we can exclude (the lab connection).”
Throughout the pandemic, Tedros has repeatedly praised China for its speed and transparency despite senior WHO officials internally griping about obfuscation from their Chinese counterparts.
Last year, The Associated Press found that WHO was frustrated by a lack of details from China during the early stages of the coronavirus’ spread and showed that China was clamping down on the hidden hunt for the pandemic’s origins.
Numerous public health experts have also called for an independent examination of COVID-19’s origins, arguing WHO does not have the political clout to conduct such a forensic analysis and that the UN agency has failed after more than a year to extract critical details from China.