WHO urges countries to reveal intelligence on COVID-19 origins

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says ‘all hypotheses on the origins of the virus remain on the table’.

FILE PHOTO: Pandemic prevention workers leave for their shift to look after buildings where residents do home quarantine, as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreaks continue in Beijing, December 8, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
Pandemic prevention workers in Beijing in December 2022 [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

The World Health Organization has urged all countries to reveal what they know about the origins of COVID-19 following claims by the United States that the virus was likely leaked from a Chinese laboratory and which has led to furious denials from Beijing.

US Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray told Fox News this week that the FBI had assessed the source of the COVID-19 pandemic was “most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan”, the Chinese city that hosts a virus research laboratory and was the location of the first COVID infections in late 2019.

“If any country has information about the origins of the pandemic, it’s essential for that information to be shared with WHO and the international scientific community,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday.

“Not so as to apportion blame but to advance our understanding of how this pandemic started, so we can prevent, prepare for and respond to future epidemics and pandemics,” the WHO chief said.

The WHO has not abandoned efforts to identify the source of the pandemic, he said.

“WHO continues to call for [China] to be transparent in sharing data and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results. To that effect, I have written to, and spoken with, high-level Chinese leaders on multiple occasions, as recently as just a few weeks ago.”

The WHO chief also said that “all hypotheses on the origins of the virus remain on the table”.

Chinese officials have angrily denied the FBI’s claim of their country being the origin of the pandemic, calling it a smear campaign against Beijing.

Wray also told Fox News television that China had thwarted efforts to identify the origin of the virus.

“I will just make the observation that the Chinese government … has been doing its best to try to thwart and obfuscate the work here, the work that we’re doing, the work that our US government and close foreign partners are doing,” Wray said.

Politicisation of the search to identify the origin of the virus was making the scientific work harder and the world less safe as a result, Tedros added.

Tedros said there was a moral imperative to find out how the pandemic started, for the sake of the millions who lost their lives to COVID-19 and those living with long COVID.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, said the organisation had reached out to the US mission in Geneva for more information regarding the FBI chief’s claims.

So far, however, they did not have access to the data on which the US reports were based, said Van Kerkhove, who is an infectious disease epidemiologist.

“It remains vital that that information is shared”, to help move the scientific studies forward, she added.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said last week that Beijing had been transparent in the search for the origin of the virus. She countered that the US should look to its own biological laboratories scattered across the world when searching for the virus’s source.

“It is the US who should respond to the world’s questions and concerns over Fort Detrick and its military and biological labs across the world,” Mao said.

“By politicising the issue, the US will not succeed in discrediting China. Instead, it will only hurt the US’s own credibility.”

As of February 21, there have been more than 757 million virus infections and 6.85 million related deaths, according to the WHO’s global COVID-19 trackers. The WHO also acknowledges that the true death toll is far higher.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies