The World Health Organization on July 16 said that the second stage of an investigation into COVID-19 origin should include further studies in China and lab “audits”. According to a press release, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus proposed five priorities for the next phase of the investigation. He said that the next phase should include “audits” of relevant laboratories and research institutions operating in the area of the initial human cases identified in December 2019.
Tedros even suggested that investigators should focus on studies prioritising geographic areas with the earliest indication of circulation of SARS CoV-2. He also called for more studies of animal markets in and around the Chinese city of Wuhan, where COVID-19 was first detected. Further, the WHO chief said that studies related to animal trace-back activities, with additional epidemiology and molecular epidemiology work, including early sequences of the virus is also needed.
“We expect China to support this next phase of the scientific process by sharing all relevant data in a spirit of transparency. Equally, we expect all Member States to support the scientific process by refraining from politicising it,” Tedros said.
It is worth noting that the UN health agency has been under intensifying pressure for a new, more in-depth investigation of COVID-19’s origin. The WHO only managed to send a team of independent, international experts to Wuhan in January, more than a year after coronavirus first surfaced there in late 2019, to help their Chinese counterparts probe the pandemic origins. The 14-member team had said in March that the coronavirus had probably jumped from bats to humans through another animal.
But the intensifying probe into COVID-19 origins globally still holds relevance months after a previously undisclosed and controversial Wall Street report propelled conspiracies claiming three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) sought hospital care after they fell sick in November 2019. This was a month prior to Beijing’s opening report of COVID-like symptoms in a patient. However, China rejects the theory the virus may have emerged from a virology lab in Wuhan. It has instead accused the US of peddling “conspiracies” and politicising the pandemic.
Tedros calls on China to be more transparent
Meanwhile, Tedros, who has always maintained that all theories remained on the table, on Thursday said that the investigations into the origins of COVID-19 in China are stalled by the lack of raw data on the earliest cases of coronavirus infections. WHO chief also called on China to be more transparent as little is known about the origin of COVID-19 in December 2019 even after the WHO-led team spent at least four weeks in and around the central city of Wuhan with the Chinese researchers. He even said that the push to rule out the possible link to a lab leak had been “premature”.