Pandemic origin: WHO to publish report on Mar 15
- The controversy over the investigation organised by the World Health Organization and China about the origins of Covid-19 heated up as a group of scientists called for an independent probe to consider all hypotheses and nail down whether the virus came from an animal.
The international investigation into the Covid-19 pandemic’s origins in China will publish its report in the week of March 15, the World Health Organization’s chief has said.
The report was originally due to be published in two stages: an initial summary in February followed by the full text. However, they will both now be released at the same time, said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“I know that many member states are eager to see the report of the joint WHO-led study on the origins of the Sars-CoV-2 virus -- and of course so am I,” Tedros said in a speech to the UN health agency’s member countries on Thursday.
“The team is working on its final report as well as an accompanying summary report, which we understand will be issued simultaneously in the week of the 15th of March.
Rest assured that when the reports are ready, we will ask the expert team to share the reports with member states ahead of their release, and to brief you on the findings.” The first Covid-19 cases were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. The international investigation in the city only began in January 2021 and wrapped up last month. A team of international scientific experts spent four weeks in Wuhan visiting sites linked to early cases.
Demand for new probe
The controversy over the investigation organised by the World Health Organization and China about the origins of Covid-19 heated up as a group of scientists called for an independent probe to consider all hypotheses and nail down whether the virus came from an animal.
A group of more than 20 signatories said in an open letter published by the Wall Street Journal that the existing mission isn’t independent enough and demanded a new probe to consider all possibilities over the origin.
Half of the joint team are Chinese citizens whose scientific independence may be limited, they said.
Experts believe the disease originated in bats and could have been transmitted to humans via another mammal.
Although the mission to Wuhan failed to identify the source of the virus, the experts were dismissive of the theory that it leaked from a virology laboratory in the city at a press conference before leaving China.
However, when the team leadership returned to Geneva, Tedros said that, “all hypotheses remain open”.
The WHO has faced criticism since the outbreak of the pandemic that it has been too deferential to China. Former US President Donald Trump advanced the theory that the virus might have escaped from a high-security virology lab in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus was first detected.
The mission followed months of negotiation with China. Stung by criticism that they initially covered up the extent of the crisis, Chinese state media and officials have promoted the theory that the virus didn’t start in the country, but was brought in.
The scientists who signed the open letter included the lab scenario among the possibilities. Signatories include Steven Quay, chief executive officer at Atossa Therapeutics Inc., which develops treatments for breast cancer and Covid-19, while Jamie Metzl, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, co-organised the letter.
None of the signatories were members of the WHO-backed mission. China’s foreign ministry said Friday there had been top Chinese experts on the team that went to Wuhan to look into the virus’s origins, and that China hoped other nations could cooperate on similar inquiries.