WHO steps up pressure on China to offer more info on Covid origins
WHO went to China to for the first origins mission in early 2021, but returned an inconclusive and highly criticised report, citing Beijing’s lack of cooperation
Amid a recent surge in Covid-19 cases globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said it is "willing" to send another mission to China to probe the origin of the highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 virus, if the country will cooperate, according to a media report.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has urged Beijing to offer more information on the origins of Covid-19, the Financial Times reported.
“We’re pressing China to give full access, and we are asking countries to raise it during their bilateral meetings — (to urge Beijing) to cooperate,” Ghebreyesus was quoted as saying to FT. “We have already asked in writing to give us information... and also (are) willing to send a team if they allow us to do so.”
Nearly four years after the first cases emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan before causing a global pandemic, the genesis of the virus remains unclear.
The debate continues on theories which envisage either a zoonotic jump from animals to humans via Wuhan’s wet food markets, or contagion stemming from an accidental leak from the city’s virology laboratory.
While there has been no scientific consensus so far, Ghebreyesus reiterated that all options remained “on the table”, the report said.
“Unless we get evidence beyond reasonable doubt, we cannot just say this or that,” he said. “We will get the answer. It’s a matter of time."
Ghebreyesus told FT that in January 2020, he had to travel to Beijing to convince Chinese president Xi Jinping to allow the first Covid mission of WHO experts as “officials below him were not willing to allow us to send a team”.
A team from WHO then went to China to undertake its first origins mission in early 2021, but returned an inconclusive and highly criticised report, citing Beijing’s lack of cooperation as a factor.
“On the origin study, since they are not giving us full access, we started discussions in private and then when they refused to cooperate, we made it public,” Ghebreyesus said, on accusations that WHO was too lenient on China’s slow initial response.
Ghebreyesus said the global health body collaborated with China as it took steps to limit the virus, then openly criticised Beijing when it did not allow the health body to effectively probe the origins of Covid-19, the report said.
“If we know (the origin), then we can prevent the next one. So it’s science,” he said. “It will not be morally correct if we don’t know what happened.” He said “the pandemic was politicised from the start”.
Meanwhile, world leaders are expected for the first time to discuss pandemic preparedness at high-level meetings during the UN’s General Assembly in New York next week.