WHO chief: ‘Premature’ to rule out COVID-19 lab leak theory
The World Health Organization (WHO) chief said on Thursday that there was a “premature push” to rule out the COVID-19 lab leak theory without enough evidence.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged to reporters during a briefing that the theory that COVID-19 originated from a lab is possible, in remarks that strayed from the WHO’s controversial report designating the hypothesis as “extremely unlikely.”
Tedros cited his experience as a lab technician and immunologist, saying that “lab accidents happen” and “it’s common,” so “checking what happened, especially in our labs,” is important to deducing what sparked the pandemic.
“If we get full information, we can exclude that,” he said, referring to the theory.
“In any outbreak, you go and understand the origins,” Tedros added. “We need to know what happened in order to prevent the next one.”
He called for China and other member states to be transparent and cooperate with scientists and officials trying to determine how the pandemic started, including through providing raw data. The first COVID-19 case was documented in Wuhan, China.
“I think we owe it to the millions who suffered and the millions who died really to understand what happened,” Tedros said.
Global deaths surpassed 4 million last week. Nearly 15 percent of those occurred in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University data.
“I hope there will be better cooperation and we have the continued engagement with China and also with member states, and there will be better cooperation to getting to the bottom of what happened.”
German Health Minister Jens Spahn backed up Tedros’s remarks, requesting more investigations into the origin of COVID-19.
“We do appreciate the cooperation of the Chinese government so far for the first mission,” Spahn said. “But that’s not yet enough.”
The WHO officials’ comments took a turn from the organization’s March report, conducted along with Chinese scientists, that said it was “a likely to very likely pathway” that the virus began in an animal before spreading to humans.
The lab leak theory, which was initially dismissed, has gained traction in recent months, prompting President Biden to ask the U.S. intelligence community to “redouble their efforts” looking into how the COVID-19 virus emerged.
The Chinese government responded by asserting Biden was playing politics with his request instead of investigating the evidence.