WHO Report on COVID Origins Angers China

Team said there should be further investigation of lab leak theory
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 10, 2022 12:20 PM CDT
China Slams WHO Report on COVID Origins
A worker in protective overalls and carrying disinfecting equipment walks outside the Wuhan Central Hospital in China on Feb. 6, 2021.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

(Newser) – A team of scientists backed by the World Health Organization released a preliminary report Thursday on the search for the origins of the coronavirus pandemic—and China was angered by the suggestion that the theory the virus may have leaked from a lab merited further investigation. The team said that while the strongest evidence still suggests that the virus originated in animals and jumped to humans, the lab leak theory needs "further investigations," and China hasn't supplied data that would allow the team to better evaluate the theory, the Washington Post reports.

The team said that according to its preliminary findings, the most closely related coronaviruses to the ones that caused the pandemic have been found in bats in China, but "so far neither the virus progenitors nor the natural/intermediate hosts or spill-over event to humans have been identified," per CNN. Virologist Marietjie Venter, chair of the WHO team, told reporters that "the precursor viruses that have been identified in bats are definitely not close enough to be the virus that spilled over into humans," per the Post. She said there's been no new data pointing to a lab leak, but the team wants to examine all the possibilities.

The team said it needs to examine samples collected in early 2020 from the Wuhan food market where many early cases were detected. Analysts say it's not clear whether China will ever supply some of the data the team is seeking. "The lack of political cooperation from China continues to stifle any meaningful progress," Lawrence Gostin, director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, tells the New York Times. Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, said Friday that the lab leak theory "is totally a lie concocted by anti-China forces for political purposes, which has nothing to do with science," per the AP. He also called for an investigation of "highly suspicious laboratories" in the US where China has claimed the US might have developed the virus as a bioweapon. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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