The World Health Organization team investigating the origins of Covid-19 will not be releasing a planned interim report on its research mission to China, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, amid escalating political and scientific tensions over an investigation many criticized as fundamentally compromised by Chinese officials.
WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus previously said an interim report summarizing the findings of the mission—which was the product of months of tense diplomatic wrangling—would be expected in mid-late February, with a more comprehensive report to come in the weeks after that.
According to both Peter Ben Embarek, who led the WHO team, and a WHO spokesperson speaking to the Wall Street Journal, the WHO is now abandoning that plan and will publish the summary alongside the complete report “in coming weeks.”
With so much interest in the report, Embarek said a “summary only would not satisfy the curiosity of the readers.”
The deferral comes amid mounting international tensions over China’s handling of the investigation, with the U.K. and the U.S. expressing concern that China may have obstructed the investigation and altered its findings (which must be agreed upon by both WHO and Chinese delegations), calling for greater transparency on the issue.
The WHO did not respond to a Forbes request for comment.
An international group of scientists published an open letter Thursday, also reported by the Wall Street Journal, demanding a new and independent inquiry into the virus’ origins. “We cannot afford an investigation into the origins of the pandemic that is anything less than absolutely thorough and credible,” the group said, adding that “efforts to date do not constitute a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation” owing to the WHO’s need to collaborate with member states and China’s refusal to grant the kinds of access required for this kind of work.
The origins of Covid-19 are still largely a mystery and have become a political issue as well as a health issue. It is believed to have crossed over from animals into humans in the later months of 2019 and was first detected in China, where many believe it originated. China disputes this origin story and has been pushing the theory that it was imported into the country on frozen food, something it boosted using the WHO team’s platform. Former President Trump and his officials repeatedly pushed, without evidence, the idea that the virus also leaked from a lab in Wuhan. Trump once said he had a “high degree of confidence” in the Wuhan lab theory, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there was “enormous evidence” the claim was true. At the end of their investigation, the WHO team said the theory was “extremely unlikely,” though since returning from China some members, and Tedros, have said the hypothesis is still in play.
What To Watch For
Though there are growing calls for a truly independent inquiry into the origins of Covid-19, China is unlikely to sanction any missions. Indeed, it has indicated that its role in (what it emphasizes to be a) global investigation is complete and has been demanding other countries, such as the U.S., to open themselves up for investigation.
Wuhan Lab Theory ‘Extremely Unlikely’ Covid-19 Source, WHO Concludes—Correcting A Trump White House Claim (Forbes)
A Timeline Of The COVID-19 Wuhan Lab Origin Theory (Forbes)
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