WHO’s initial assessment on pandemic’s origins reversed, citing missing data
In a significant shift, a group of experts commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for further research to determine the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a detailed analysis of the possibility of a laboratory accident. This revised stance contradicts WHO’s earlier assessment that it was “extremely unlikely” for the virus to have originated from a lab. The expert group emphasized that crucial data to explain the pandemic’s beginnings is still missing and highlighted the need for comprehensive testing of all reasonable hypotheses.
The debate surrounding the origins of COVID-19 has been highly politicized. Former U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly speculated, without evidence, that the virus originated in a Chinese lab and accused WHO of colluding with China to cover up the outbreak. While the expert group acknowledges the potential for lab accidents to trigger outbreaks and the highly politicized nature of the theory, they have called for scientific evidence to be thoroughly examined.
Former U.S. President’s lab leak theory gains renewed attention
The experts revealed that WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had requested information from senior Chinese government officials in February, including details about the earliest cases in Wuhan. However, it remains unclear if the Chinese government responded. The expert group noted that no studies were provided to WHO regarding the possibility of a laboratory leak and that their understanding of the virus’s emergence was limited due to factors such as unpublished research from Chinese scientists.
Jamie Metzl, a member of an unrelated WHO advisory group, suggested that the Group of Seven industrialized nations establish their own probe into the origins of COVID-19. He questioned the political authority, scientific expertise, and independence of WHO in conducting a critical evaluation. Metzl welcomed WHO’s call for further investigation into the lab leak theory but deemed it insufficient, highlighting China’s lack of transparency and refusal to share essential data.
Calls for increased transparency from China to prevent future pandemics.
The expert group emphasized the need for various research avenues, including studying wild animals as potential hosts of COVID-19 and conducting environmental studies in places like the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan. They also called for investigating the “cold chain” supply theory proposed by China, which suggests that the virus may have been introduced through contaminated frozen packaging.
As the quest for COVID-19’s origins continues, the urgency to collect data grows. Scientists connected to WHO expressed concerns about the narrowing window of opportunity and the challenges of gathering data that is now at least two years old.