WHO presses China for more transparency on outbreak origins

The World Health Organization’s chief urged China to be more transparent over its data on the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country, while admitting that ruling out the possibility of a laboratory leak in Wuhan had been premature.

“We ask China to be transparent and open and to cooperate,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general said at a news conference on Thursday.

“We owe it to the millions who suffered and the millions who died to know what happened,” he said, adding that investigations into the source of the outbreak have been hindered by a lack of raw data from the first days of the pandemic as provided by the Chinese government.

In March, the WHO, in a joint report with Chinese researchers, concluded that the virus probably originated in bats and was passed to humans, after the organization sent a team of researchers to investigate around the city of Wuhan for four weeks.

The director-general further acknowledged that there had been a “premature push” into ruling out the theory that the virus may have escaped from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan.

“I was a lab technician myself, I’m an immunologist, and I have worked in a lab, and lab accidents happen,” Tedros said. “It’s common.”

“Checking what happened, especially in our labs, is important and we need direct information on what the situation of this lab was before and at the start of the pandemic, then, if we get full information, we can exclude that.”

In May, US President Joe Biden ordered the country’s intelligence teams to carry out extra investigations into the origins of the pandemic, including “any possibility the trail might lead to a Chinese laboratory.”

China responded by calling the theory “absurd”, adding that “politicizing” the matter will further hamper investigations.

Following the announcement, Tedros will be briefing WHO’s 194 member states on Friday regarding a proposed second phase of the study, said WHO’s top emergency expert Mike Ryan.

“We look forward to working with our Chinese counterparts on that process and the director-general will outline measures to member states at a meeting tomorrow, on Friday,” Mike said.

The ongoing global pandemic of the Covid-19 disease, which was first identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019, has caused more than 189 million infections and a further 4.83 million deaths worldwide.

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