China still hasn’t handed over raw Covid-19 case data that the World Health Organization requested in early 2020, undermining a probe into how the virus emerged amid rising speculation that it leaked from a Chinese lab.
Beijing’s failure to provide the requested data has been one of the challenges hindering the WHO’s efforts to study Covid-19’s origin, the group’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told reporters on Thursday in Geneva. “Now we have designed the second phase of the study, and we are 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.
WHO’s @DrTedros Confirms China Refused to Share Raw Data on Early Covid-19 Cases:“We are asking China to be transparent, open and cooperate, especially on the information, raw data that we asked for in the early days of the pandemic.” pic.twitter.com/8JgzCeeuxj
Ghebreyesus acknowledged that there had been a “premature push” to dismiss the theory that the virus originated in a lab near Wuhan, China. The WHO issued a report in March saying that Covid-19 probably spread from bats to humans and that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus escaped from a lab.
“I was a lab technician myself, I’m an immunologist, and I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen,” Ghebreyesus said on Thursday. “It’s common.”
Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance and a member of the WHO team investigating how the outbreak began, lobbied from the start of the pandemic to squash the lab-leak theory. Daszak, whose organization sent $600,000 in US taxpayer money to help fund research at the Wuhan lab, thanked chief White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci in April 2020 for “publicly standing up and stating that the scientific evidence supports a natural origin for COVID-19 from a bat-to-human spillover, not a lab release from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
Thursday’s statement by Ghebreyesus was unusually pointed, inasmuch as he has typically shown deference to the WHO’s major member nations. In fact, the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, among others, accused him last year of doing China’s bidding, covering up Beijing’s “mishandling” of the outbreak. The CFR said the WHO chief “laundered China’s image,” such as when he praised the country’s government for “openness to sharing information” and “setting a new standard for outbreak control.”
The lab-leak theory, which was squashed by social media platforms and mainstream media outlets as “misinformation,” gained traction after the Wall Street Journal reported in May on evidence of a possible connection, including Wuhan scientists being sickened with Covid-like symptoms in the fall of 2019.
“We need information, direct information on what the situation of this lab was before and at the start of the pandemic,” Ghebreyesus said. “If we get full information, we can exclude” the lab as the outbreak’s origin.
US intelligence agencies, which had previously ruled out the lab-leak theory, said in late May that it was one of two “likely scenarios.” That statement came one day after President Joe Biden called for the agencies to pinpoint the origin within 90 days.
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