Researchers call for new inquiry into Covid origins as WHO study was 'tainted by politics'

Anne Gulland
·2-min read
The WHO investigative team visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology - Thomas Peter/Reuters
The WHO investigative team visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology - Thomas Peter/Reuters

A joint China-World Health Organization (WHO) study into the origins of Covid-19 has provided no credible answers about how the pandemic began, and more rigorous investigations are required, a group of international scientists and researchers have said.

In an open letter, 24 scientists and researchers from Europe, the United States, Australia and Japan said the WHO study, published last week, was “tainted” by politics.

“Their starting point was, let’s have as much compromise as is required to get some minimal cooperation from China,” Jamie Metzl, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, who drafted the letter, told the Reuters news agency.

The letter said the study’s conclusions were based on unpublished Chinese research, while critical records and biological samples “remain inaccessible”.

The long-awaited WHO study concluded that the virus most likely emerged in an as-yet unknown animal before jumping into bats and then into humans. It said that, while possible, it is “extremely unlikely” that Sars-Cov-2 escaped from a lab.

However, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, issued a rare rebuke to China for withholding information on the origins of the pandemic and warned that the investigation into a potential laboratory leak was “not extensive enough”.

The city where the virus first emerged is home to several high security labs - including China's foremost zoonotic disease research centre, the Wuhan Institute of Virology - and rumours the virus escaped from here have circulated since the start of the pandemic.

In a statement to member states during a briefing on the WHO’s long-awaited report into how the virus emerged, Dr Tedros said investigators had reported difficulties in “accessing raw data” and “would benefit from full access to data including biological samples from at least September 2019”.

He said all hypotheses for how the virus emerged “remain on the table”.

Liang Wannian, China’s senior Covid-19 expert, said the focus should shift to other countries.

Mr Metzl said the world might have to “revert to Plan B” and conduct an investigation “in the most systematic way possible” without China’s involvement.

However, Dr Tedros also called for more studies to understand the earliest human cases and clusters which centred around the Huanan market in Wuhan, central China.

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