Public/Global Health

WHO says US hasn’t shared any evidence linking coronavirus to Chinese lab


The U.S. government has not provided the World Health Organization (WHO) with any data or information linking the coronavirus to a laboratory in China, senior WHO officials said Monday, just days after President Trump claimed to have seen such evidence.

Trump told reporters on Thursday that he had seen evidence that made him confident the virus was tied to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. He refused to offer any details.

“I can’t tell you that. I am not allowed to tell you that,” Trump said.

At a press briefing Monday, WHO officials said evidence based on nearly 15,000 fully sequenced samples of the coronavirus suggested it is of natural origin, and that they had seen no evidence that a laboratory was involved.

“We have not received any data or specific evidence from the United States government relating to the purported origin,” said Mike Ryan, director of the WHO’s emergency program. “From our perspective, this remains speculative.”

“If that data and evidence is available, it will be for the United States government to decide when it can be shared,” Ryan added.

Trump has slammed the WHO and halted U.S. funding to the organization, criticizing its early interactions with China as the virus spread outward from its epicenter in Wuhan, even after repeatedly praising Chinese President Xi Jinping for his efforts to control it.

WHO officials said Monday they were still investigating how the coronavirus jumped from bats, where it likely originated, to humans and whether there is an intermediate host through which the virus traveled. An intermediate host is not uncommon in the zoonotic process of a virus jumping from one species to another — in the case of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, that virus jumped from bats to dromedary camels before jumping to humans.

“We know that bats are an ancestral link. What we really need to understand is the intermediate link, the animal that was infected by bats that then infected humans,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead fighting the coronavirus, said Monday. “This happens for a lot of these zoonotic pathogens.”

The theory that the virus originated in or escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan has gained traction among Republicans as they seek to shift blame for the virus’s disastrous consequences in the United States away from Trump, who often downplayed the potential threat from the disease early on even as U.S. intelligence agencies and several top advisers sounded the alarm.

“From all of the evidence that we have seen, from all of the sequences that are available … this virus is of natural origin. But we do need to still find the intermediate host in China,” Van Kerkhove said.

Tracing an outbreak back to its initial case, in an effort to understand how a virus began infecting humans, can often take years. Understanding the index case can give public health officials a way to prevent future transmissions and another outbreak.

Ryan warned against conflating the scientific need to understand where the virus originated with the political calculus behind blaming China for its spread.

“We can find the answers together. If this is projected as an aggressive investigation of wrongdoing, then I believe that is more difficult to do. That’s a political issue, that is not a science issue,” he said. “We would like to see scientists at the center of the exploration of the source of this.”

Tags China Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Pandemic WHO
See all Hill.TV See all Video