A small group of scientists and others who believe the novel coronavirus that spawned the pandemic could have originated from a lab leak or accident is calling for an inquiry independent of the World Health Organisation’s team of independent experts sent to China last month.
The New York Times reports that while many scientists involved in researching the origins of the virus continue to assert that the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic almost certainly began in a leap from bats to an intermediate animal to humans, other theories persist and have gained new visibility with the WHO-led team of experts’ visit to China.
Officials with the WHO have said in recent interviews that it was “extremely unlikely” but not impossible that the spread of the virus was linked to some lab accident.
The NYT reports that the open letter, first reported in The Wall Street Journal and the French publication Le Monde, lists what the signers see as flaws in the joint WHO-China inquiry, and state that it could not adequately address the possibility that the virus leaked from a lab. The letter further posits the type of investigation that would be adequate, including full access to records within China.
The report says the WHO mission, as with everything involving China and the coronavirus, has been political from the start as the international team’s members acknowledged.
Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University and one of the scientists who signed the letter, said it grew out of a series of online discussions among scientists, policy experts and others who came to be known informally as the Paris group. Many of those who signed the letter were based in France and Ebright, who has been outspoken about the need to investigate a possible laboratory leak, said such discussion had been less vigorous in the US.
Asked to respond to the letter, Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesperson for the WHO, said that the team of experts that had gone to China “is working on its full report as well as an accompanying summary report, which we understand will be issued simultaneously in a couple of weeks.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that the WHO team investigating the origins of COVID-19 is planning to scrap an interim report on its recent mission to China amid mounting tensions between Beijing and Washington over the investigation and an appeal from one international group of scientists for a new probe.
Their appeal comes as the US—which recently reversed a decision to leave the WHO— lobbied for greater transparency in the investigation, saying it is waiting to scrutinise the report on the Wuhan mission, and urging China to release all relevant data, including on the first confirmed infections in December 2019, and potential earlier ones.
Beijing, meanwhile, is pressing for similar WHO-led missions to other countries, including the US, to investigate whether the virus could have originated outside China and spread to Wuhan via frozen food packaging.
In a WHO clarification, VOA News reports that WHO investigators have since said that they will release the report on their findings in mid-March. That this is according to Peter Ben Embarek, who led the mission – he clarified at a regular coronavirus briefing in Geneva that an interim report would not be released as previously reported.
"To clarify, there was never a plan for an interim report, first of all,” Embarek said. “It was hoped we would get a summary report out,” but “the director-general (Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus) will receive that report from the team in the near future and we will discuss the recommendations.”
It has been reported that the WHO team decided not to release its interim account “amid mounting tensions between Beijing and Washington.”
A global team of inspectors began its four-week investigation in Wuhan in January and finished it last month.
[link url="https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/04/health/covid-virus-origins.html"]Full report in The New York Times (Open access)[/link]
[link url="https://s.wsj.net/public/resources/documents/COVID%20OPEN%20LETTER%20FINAL%20030421%20(1).pdf"]Open Letter (Open access)[/link]
[link url="https://www.wsj.com/articles/who-investigators-to-scrap-interim-report-on-probe-of-covid-19-origins-11614865067"]Full report in The Wall Street Journal (Restricted access)[/link]
[link url="https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/who-release-mid-march-report-china-covid-19-inspection"]Full VOA News report (Open access)[/link]