The head of the World Health Organization said all theories on the coronavirus origins need more investigation, just days after the leader of the WHO team in China dismissed the need for further study of the Wuhan lab leak hypothesis.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Thursday seemed to walk back comments made earlier this week by Dr. Peter Ben Embarek that the lab leak theory was “extremely unlikely” and didn’t merit further inquiry.
“The independent expert team to study the origins of the COVID-19 virus has completed its trip to China … The expert team is still working on its final report, and we look forward to receiving both the report and a full briefing,” Tedros said. “Some questions have been raised as to whether some hypotheses have been discarded. I want to clarify that all hypotheses remain open and require further study.”
China has done its utmost to thwart investigations into the origins of the virus, which subsequently turned into the pandemic that has killed 2.36 million people worldwide, and the Trump administration withdrew from the WHO in 2020, claiming that the United Nations agency was incompetent and influenced by China, although the Biden administration rejoined. A WHO joint investigation with Chinese officials was conducted over the past few weeks.
Embarek, the head of the visiting WHO team in Wuhan, announced on Tuesday that the WHO had considered four main hypotheses: direct transmission from an animal species to humans, transmission through an intermediate species, transmission through cold-chain products or frozen foods, and a “laboratory-related incident.”
He said a jump from an animal to another animal to humans was the most likely and claimed that an accidental release from a Wuhan lab was extremely unlikely, indicating the possibility wouldn’t be further scrutinized.
“Our 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,” Embarek said. “However, the findings suggest that the laboratory incident hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus into the human population and, therefore, is not a hypothesis that implies to suggest future studies into our work to support our future work into the understanding of the origin of the virus.”
Tedros reversed at least part of that conclusion Thursday, saying the theory needed further study after all.
Journalist Alison Young tweeted out Tedros’s remarks on Thursday, saying, “After big headlines on WHO experts’ dismissal of lab origin theory for Covid-19, today this.” Richard Ebright, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University who has said COVID-19 arising in nature or escaping through a lab accident were both plausible, replied that “a major announcement at a press conference with worldwide media coverage followed a day later by a one-sentence partial walk-back in a press conference with minimal press coverage is characteristic behavior for a complicit, craven coward.”
The China-WHO conclusions were met with skepticism from the Biden administration. State Department spokesman Ned Price responded to the WHO findings by saying that “I wouldn’t want to be conclusive yet before we’ve seen the report” and that the department would be drawing “on information collected and analyzed by our own intelligence community.”
Matthew Pottinger, a former Trump deputy national security adviser, said in December 2020 that “there is a growing body of evidence to say that a laboratory leak or accident is very much a credible possibility.” Of particular concern has been the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a biosafety level 4 lab in China that researches bat coronaviruses. Pottinger told the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China that “[members] around the world have a moral role to play in exposing the WHO investigation as a Potemkin exercise.”
“I think what the WHO came out and said yesterday was disingenuous. Mike Pompeo and I worked very hard to get some of our best intelligence out before we left the office a few weeks ago so we could talk about what we knew about China and COVID,” Ratcliffe said on Fox News.
“The Chinese military ordered scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology to experiment with coronaviruses starting as far back as 2017,” he added. “Some of those viruses were 96.2% genetically similar to the current COVID-19 virus, and further, some of those scientists working on the similar coronaviruses became sick with COVID-like symptoms in the fall of 2019.”
U.S. Embassy officials in China raised concerns in 2018 about biosecurity at the Wuhan lab. One State Department cable warned about a “serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.”
Peter Daszak, a member of the WHO’s coronavirus origins investigative team who previously worked with the Wuhan lab and helped steer National Institutes of Health funding to it for bat coronavirus research, celebrated the WHO’s findings, seemingly dismissed the lab leak hypothesis, criticized the Biden administration for seeming skeptical, and defended China to CCP-linked outlets.
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