WHO backtracks on earlier statement that the coronavirus did not emerge from a Chinese lab
02/22/2021 / By Virgilio Marin / Comments
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WHO backtracks on earlier statement that the coronavirus did not emerge from a Chinese lab

The World Health Organization (WHO) hasn’t discounted the possibility that the Wuhan coronavirus leaked from a Chinese lab, backing away from its investigating team’s earlier statement seemingly rejecting the “lab-leak” theory.

In a press conference on Friday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus clarified that no hypothesis about the origin of the Wuhan coronavirus has been ruled out. “I wish to confirm that all hypotheses remain open and require further analysis and studies,” Tedros said.

This comes after Peter Embarek, head of a team of WHO scientists sent to the Chinese city of Wuhan last January to investigate the origin of the virus, said that the lab-leak theory is “extremely unlikely.”

China blocked WHO scientists from accessing raw data

The WHO investigation has returned findings that seem to suggest the virus did not emerge from a Wuhan lab. But Chinese authorities’ refusal to provide raw data pertaining to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic cast doubt on the credibility of those findings.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Embarek downplayed the theory that the virus was either manufactured at or accidentally leaked from a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This theory, according to Embarek, “isn’t a hypothesis we suggest implies further study.”

Instead, the virus was most likely passed to humans from animals or frozen wildlife products, he said. This would lend credence to China’s assertion that the Wuhan coronavirus did not originate from the country, but was brought there via frozen goods. This narrative, published in Chinese newspapers, gained little traction outside the Communist state.

Tedros said that though the investigation did not provide all answers they were looking for, it has added valuable information needed to piece together the origin of the virus. This comes even though the Chinese government reportedly refused the WHO investigators access to raw data on early COVID-19 cases. (Related: Biden EO bans term “China Virus” as China deletes 300 Wuhan lab studies, bans investigators from lab.)

“They showed us a couple of examples, but that’s not the same as doing all of them, which is standard epidemiological investigation,” said Dominic Dwyer, an Australian microbiologist on the WHO team.

“So then, you know, the interpretation of that data becomes more limited from our point of view, although the other side might see it as being quite good,” Dwyer continued.

The scientists requested to see the records of 174 COVID-19 cases that were identified in December 2019, when the first patient with COVID-19 symptoms was reported. But they said that Chinese authorities did not allow them to see those records.

Instead, the team was given aggregated and summarized data made by Chinese officials, including analyses saying that there was no evidence of the virus in Wuhan prior to the December outbreak. Early detection of the disease could have halted its spread before it erupted into a worldwide pandemic.

China holding back info goes way back

This incident is only the latest example of China’s refusal to share valuable information. In the early days of the pandemic, for example, China withheld releasing the genetic map of the virus and only made it available more than a week after three different government labs had fully decoded the information.

Yet the WHO kept heaping praise on China from the start of the pandemic. Tedros, for example, described its response to the Wuhan outbreak as “very impressive.”

“The speed with which China detected the outbreak, isolated the virus, sequenced the genome and shared it with WHO and the world are very impressive, and beyond words,” he said in January last year. (Related: Secretary of State Pompeo slams WHO’s Tedros over “unusually close” ties with Beijing.)

Privately, however, WHO officials were found to have been griping that China was not sharing enough data about the virus, costing valuable time.

In recordings obtained by AP News, WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19 Maria Van Kerkhove was heard saying in a meeting: “We’re going on very minimal information … It’s clearly not enough for you to do proper planning.”

WHO officials were flattering China in public because they wanted to coax more information out of the government, according to AP News. The news outlet also reported that WHO experts genuinely thought Chinese scientists did well in detecting and decoding the virus, despite the lack of transparency from Chinese authorities.

Read more reports about China’s attempts to change the COVID-19 origin story at Coronavirus.news.

Sources include:

DailyMail.co.uk

TheGuardian.com 1

TheGuardian.com 2

WSJ.com

APNews.com

BusinessInsider.com

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