China is fuming after a Thursday report by the World Health Organization concluded that while Covid-19 is likely from animals, further study is required to explain how it jumped to humans – including the possibility of a lab-leak.
An expert panel convened by the WHO's scientific advisory group recommended "further investigations" into the lab-leak theory, and noted that there "has not been any new data made available" to come to any conclusions.
The recommendation is a sharp departure from the agency's initial report, which ruled that a lab origin was "extremely unlikely."
"All hypotheses must remain on the table until we have evidence that enables us to rule certain hypotheses in or out," said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a June 9 press conference. "This make[s] it all the more urgent that this scientific work be kept separate from politics."
As the Epoch Times notes, the report stated in a footnote that three panel members from Russia, Brazil, and China objected to the recommendations, saying there is “no scientific evidence” to question the commission’s previous conclusion from March 2021.
The report was written by a team, named the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO), which was tasked with advising the WHO on investigations into pathogens that might trigger the next pandemic, as well as studying the origins of the current pandemic.
The 27-member group was established last autumn following criticism from a dozen countries that raised concerns about WTO’s COVID-19 origins study, due to a lack of transparency and access to crucial data from China.
Key Data Missing
The 52-page preliminary report said “key pieces of data” are still missing to determine how the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The group said current data suggested a zoonotic origin of the novel coronavirus. The closest genetically-related virus was beta coronaviruses identified in bats in China and Laos, it added.
“However, so far neither the virus progenitors nor the natural/intermediate hosts or spill-over event to humans have been identified,” it stated.
The scientific advisory group believes the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, where the first infections were recorded in China, “played an important role early in the amplification of the pandemic.” The team called for further studies into information such as environmental and animal samples taken from the market.
In the summer of 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence assessed that one US intelligence agency determined with "moderate confidence" that the virus most likely emerged from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan.
China is pissed
As the Washington Examiner notes, Chinese officials slammed the report – with Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian saying on Friday that the theory was nothing more than a politically motivated lie driven by "anti-China" sentiments.
"The lab leak theory is totally a lie concocted by anti-China forces for political purposes, which has nothing to do with science," he said, adding "We always supported and participated in science-based global virus tracing, but we firmly opposed any forms of political manipulation."
Zhao then suggested that the virus actually originated in a US military lab, citing "highly suspicious laboratories such as Fort Detrick."
Jamie Metzl, who sits on an unrelated WHO advisory group, has suggested that the Group of Seven industrialized nations set up their own COVID-19 origins probe, saying WHO lacks the political authority, expertise, and independence to conduct such a critical evaluation.
Metzl welcomed WHO’s call for a further investigation into the lab leak possibility but said it was insufficient.
“Tragically, the Chinese government is still refusing to share essential raw data and will not allow the necessary, full audit of the Wuhan labs,” he told The Associated Press. “Gaining access to this information is critical to both understanding how this pandemic began and preventing future pandemics.”
In Washington, a Republican-led subcommittee in the House of Representatives on the COVID-19 pandemic wrote in a tweet: “Americans were smeared as ‘conspiracy theorists’ for asking whether #COVID19 came from a lab leak. Now, the WHO is asking the same questions.”
“WE NEED ANSWERS,” added the committee, which is headed by Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.