The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended an in-depth investigation into the hypothesis that Covid-19 originated in a laboratory accident, a year after it considered the possibility “extremely unlikely”.
This stance denotes a possible revision of the UN agency’s initial assessment of the origins of the pandemic and comes after critics accused the WHO of having too quickly discarded, or underestimated, the theory that the virus may have originated at the Institute of Virology of Wuhan, the city in central China where the first cases of covid-19 were diagnosed, in late 2019.
The WHO concluded last year that that hypothesis was “extremely unlikely”.
Many scientists have argued that the new coronavirus is more likely to have been transmitted to humans from bats, possibly with another animal as an intermediary.
However, in a report released on Thursday, the WHO group of experts said: “key data” was still missing to determine how the covid-19 pandemic began.
The scientists said they “will remain open to any and all scientific evidence that becomes available in the future to allow comprehensive testing of all reasonable hypotheses.”
And they noted that because laboratory accidents in the past have triggered some outbreaks, the laboratory theory, which has been highly politicized, cannot be ruled out.
Identifying the source of disease can take years. It took more than a decade for scientists to identify the bat species that served as a natural reservoir for the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus, detected in southern China in late 2002.
A virologist who is part of the WHO group investigating the origin of covid-19 Jean-Claude Manuguerra acknowledged that some scientists “may be averse” to the idea of investigating the laboratory theory, but said it was necessary to keep an “open mind” to examine this hypothesis.
The report may resurrect accusations that the WHO initially accepted, without question, the Chinese government’s explanations at the beginning of the outbreak in Wuhan.
Some top WHO members were frustrated with China during the initial outbreak, even after the UN agency praised Chinese President Xi Jinping. They were also frustrated by the way China sought to narrow research into the origins of the pandemic.
Former US President Donald Trump has repeatedly speculated – without any evidence – that Covid-19 originated in a Chinese laboratory, and accused the WHO of “collusion” with China to cover up the initial outbreak.
Experts, quoted by the Associated Press news agency, said that no studies had been provided to the WHO that evaluated the possibility that covid-19 resulted from a leak from a laboratory.
Jamie Metzl, who is part of a WHO advisory group unrelated to investigations, suggested that the G7 countries create their own team to research the origins of the virus, claiming that the WHO does not have the political authority, experience, and independence to carry out such an assessment. criticism.
Metzl welcomed the WHO’s call for further investigation into the laboratory theory, but said it was insufficient: “the Chinese government still refuses to share essential raw data and does not allow a complete and necessary audit of the laboratories in Wuhan”.
The group of WHO scientists charged with investigating the origin of the coronavirus said several approaches were needed, including studies that assess the role of wild animals, and environmental studies in places where the virus may have spread for the first time, such as the fruit market. from the Huanan Sea in Wuhan.
In March 2021, the WHO released a report on the origins of Covid-19, following a visit by international scientists to China. The report concluded that the disease had likely passed from bats to humans and that there was no evidence to suggest a laboratory origin.
However, after criticism from the scientific community, including some scientists on the WHO team, the agency’s director acknowledged that it was premature to rule out that hypothesis.
China considers laboratory theory a ‘lie’ after WHO recommends investigation
Beijing today criticized the theory that the covid-19 pandemic may have originated in a Chinese laboratory as a “politically motivated lie”, after the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended an in-depth investigation.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian also rejected accusations that China did not fully cooperate with WHO investigators who traveled to the country last year.
The spokesperson said China was receptive to science-based investigation but rejected any political manipulation.
He also reiterated calls for an investigation into “highly suspicious [US] laboratories such as Fort Detrick and the University of North Carolina,” where China suggested, without evidence, that the United States was developing the novel coronavirus, as a biological weapon.
“The theory that [coronavirus] leaked from a laboratory is a complete lie, invented by anti-China forces, for political purposes, which has nothing to do with science,” Zhao said at a press conference.
The spokesperson said China has made major contributions to research into the origin of the virus, sharing most of the data and results of its own investigations.
This “fully reflects China’s open, transparent, and responsible attitude, as well as its support for the work of the WHO,” he said.
Source: With Agencies