WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says ‘all hypotheses on the origins of the virus remain on the table’.
US Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray told Fox News this week that the FBI had assessed the source of the COVID-19 pandemic was “most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan”, the Chinese city that hosts a virus research laboratory and was the location of the first COVID infections in late 2019.
“If any country has information about the origins of the pandemic, it’s essential for that information to be shared with WHO and the international scientific community,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday.
“Not so as to apportion blame but to advance our understanding of how this pandemic started, so we can prevent, prepare for and respond to future epidemics and pandemics,” the WHO chief said.
The WHO has not abandoned efforts to identify the source of the pandemic, he said.
“WHO continues to call for [China] to be transparent in sharing data and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results. To that effect, I have written to, and spoken with, high-level Chinese leaders on multiple occasions, as recently as just a few weeks ago.”
Wray also told Fox News television that China had thwarted efforts to identify the origin of the virus.
“I will just make the observation that the Chinese government … has been doing its best to try to thwart and obfuscate the work here, the work that we’re doing, the work that our US government and close foreign partners are doing,” Wray said.
Politicisation of the search to identify the origin of the virus was making the scientific work harder and the world less safe as a result, Tedros added.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, said the organisation had reached out to the US mission in Geneva for more information regarding the FBI chief’s claims.
So far, however, they did not have access to the data on which the US reports were based, said Van Kerkhove, who is an infectious disease epidemiologist.
“It remains vital that that information is shared”, to help move the scientific studies forward, she added.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said last week that Beijing had been transparent in the search for the origin of the virus. She countered that the US should look to its own biological laboratories scattered across the world when searching for the virus’s source.
“By politicising the issue, the US will not succeed in discrediting China. Instead, it will only hurt the US’s own credibility.”
As of February 21, there have been more than 757 million virus infections and 6.85 million related deaths, according to the WHO’s global COVID-19 trackers. The WHO also acknowledges that the true death toll is far higher.