Pressure is mounting on Beijing to offer up information on the origins of the Covid pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) is ready to send a team of scientists to China to probe how the virus spread to humans and plunged the world into crisis. An initial investigation by the UN health agency in 2021, which saw a group of scientists travel to Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, concluded that Covid emerged naturally. However, the investigation was criticized due to a lack of cooperation from Beijing, which allegedly refused to discuss the lab leak theory unless the final report stated no further investigation was needed, and withheld key data and samples.
Now, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has written to Beijing asking for ‘full access’ and stated that the WHO is ready to send investigators. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the UN agency had already written to China asking for ‘full access.’ ‘We’re pressing China to give full access,’ he told the Financial Times. ‘We have already asked in writing to give us information… and also [are] willing to send a team if they allow us to do so.’
The WHO’s initial investigation into Covid’s origins in 2021 was highly criticized and marked by a lack of cooperation from China. Dr. Ghebreyesus’ comments also mark a further willingness from the WHO to criticize China over its lack of transparency on Covid. Nearly four years on from when cases of the virus first emerged in Wuhan, scientists are no closer to uncovering its origin.
Scientists claim it is vital to understand how the Covid pandemic began to prevent future outbreaks. Top virologists backing the natural origins theory believe the virus originated in bats and infected an intermediary species, possibly a pangolin, before then infecting humans. Studies point to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan as being the epicenter of the outbreak. Many of the earliest cases in December 2019 and January 2020 had visited the site, where live animals were sold. However, others believe the virus was leaked accidentally or on purpose from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was conducting experiments on live bats.
The WHO’s initial 2021 investigation, which saw 17 international and 17 Chinese experts spend four weeks in and around Wuhan, famously concluded that Covid emerged naturally and that a lab leak was ‘extremely unlikely.’ But Peter Ben Embarek, a program manager at the WHO who led the probe, later said Chinese officials only agreed to discuss the lab leak in the report on the condition that it did not call for any specific studies into the theory.
While a second WHO probe was announced later in the same year urging China to be more transparent and cooperative, it eventually fizzled out. The WHO has repeatedly come under fire during the pandemic for its public and stalwart defense of China. In the earliest days of the outbreak, WHO director Dr. Ghebreyesus even went as far as to praise Beijing’s ‘commitment to transparency’ which he called ‘beyond words’. At around the same time, the Communist Party began censoring public information about the spread of the virus and its potential origins, at one point suggesting that US troops could have been the initial carriers. But as years have passed and the origins of the pandemic remain murky, WHO officials have become increasingly willing to criticize China.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid, has previously admitted she thinks China could be sitting on more bombshell evidence that could finally solve the mystery surrounding the pandemic’s origin. Dr. Van Kerkhove also criticized China earlier this year for hiding crucial data on Covid’s origins for three years, stating, ‘The lack of data disclosure is simply inexcusable.’ She added that every new piece of data could potentially move the world closer to stopping another pandemic in the future. Multiple scientists have warned that time is running out in terms of learning exactly how Covid came to be, nearly four years on from when the virus first emerged.
As the world continues to grapple with Covid and new variants, the importance of understanding its origins grows. The latest variant, a heavily mutated Omicron spin-off dubbed ‘Priola,’ has sparked alarm and prompted health officials to accelerate vaccination efforts. Since the start of the Covid pandemic, almost 7 million deaths from the virus have been reported to the WHO. So the question of where it originated remains crucial to prevent future outbreaks.
[DID COVID LEAK FROM A WUHAN LAB? THE EVIDENCE FOR AND AGAINST has been retained from the original content.]
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