The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) says China withheld data from investigators who travelled to Wuhan to research the origins of the coronavirus epidemic.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus doesn’t believe the assessment was “extensive enough” and that further data and studies will be needed to reach “more robust conclusions.”
“In my discussions with the team, they expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing raw data,” Tedros said during a press briefing Tuesday.
In the WHO’s 120-page report, which was published Tuesday, transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal was suggested as the most likely scenario.
The joint WHO-China report suggests a lab leak is “extremely unlikely,” with the team going as far as to propose further research in every area except the lab leak hypothesis.
“We have not yet found the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and leave no stone unturned as we do,” Tedros said.
“Finding the origin of a virus takes time and we owe it to the world to find the source so we can collectively take steps to reduce the risk of this happening again. No single research trip can provide all the answers,” he added.
Finding the origins of the outbreak is critical in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and reducing the risk future pandemics.
The United States, Australia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, South Korea, Slovenia, United Kingdom and Canada signed on to a joint statement Tuesday criticizing the World Health Organization’s report.
In a joint statement, world leaders said the report was significantly delayed and “lacked access to complete, original data and samples.”
“In a serious outbreak of an unknown pathogen with pandemic potential, a rapid, independent, expert-led, and unimpeded evaluation of the origins is critical to better prepare our people, our public health institutions, our industries, and our governments to respond successfully to such an outbreak and prevent future pandemics,” according to the joint statement.
Some members of the scientific community had already been calling for an investigation independent of the joint World Health Organization – China study.
The lab in question, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, specializes in coronavirus research.
Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO scientist leading the team, said “it was very unlikely that anything could escape from such a place.”
Embark cited discussions with Wuhan lab officials about their safety protocols and audits. “If you look at the history of lab accidents, these are extremely rare events,” Embark said during a news conference on Feb 9.
A short time after the news conference dismissing the lab-leak theory, WHO Director-General Tedros told reporters that “all hypotheses remain open and require further study.’
“We’ve got real concerns about the methodology and the process that went into that report, including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a recent CNN interview.
The report is based largely on a 4-week visit by a WHO team of international experts to Wuhan, the Chinese city where COVID-19 was first detected.
You can read the full report here.