(CNSNews.com) – More than three months after the World Health Organization released a report that controversially all but ruled out the likelihood the coronavirus could have leaked from a Wuhan lab, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday that conclusion was “premature” and reiterated calls for China to provide more data.
Addressing a briefing in Geneva, Tedros said that in the report, by international and Chinese experts that visited Wuhan early this year, “there was a premature push to – you know, specially reduce one of the options, like the lab theory.”
Tedros said accidents do happen in scientific laboratories.
“As you know, I was a lab technician myself. I’m an immunologist, and have worked in the lab. And lab accidents happen. It’s common.”
The remarks fly in the face of just not the report released by the WHO-convened team in March, but also the Chinese government heated insistence for many months that the so-called “lab-leak theory” is baseless and politically-motivated.
Raised initially by Trump administration officials in 2020 – and derisively rejected by many critics of the former president – the hypothesis gained traction this year, with groups of scientists coming forward to call for a genuine, independent forensic investigation into the origins of the outbreak, including the scenario of a lab accident.
President Biden in May then instructed U.S. intelligence agencies to investigate the origins of the outbreak, focusing on both the natural and lab-leak hypotheses, and to report back to him within 90 days – by August 24.
He also joined G7 and European Union leaders at two summits last month in calling for a transparent, evidence-based, and expert-led study into the origins of the pandemic, including in China, and one which was free from interference.
Beijing angrily rejected the calls and Biden’s instruction to the intelligence community, asserting that it had cooperated fully with the WHO and essentially been “cleared” of culpability. Chinese officials argue that it is now the turn of the U.S. to provide access to its bio-labs – which some have repeatedly insinuated could be linked to the outbreak.
But Tedros, who came under fire from President Trump and Republicans last year over a perceived deference to China, implied on Thursday that China’s claims to have been open and transparent were not accurate.
“We are asking, actually, China to be transparent, open and cooperate, especially on the information, raw data that we asked for at the early days of the pandemic,” he said.
“We need information,” Tedros said minutes later. “Direct information on what the situation of these labs was, before and at the start of the pandemic. Then if we get full information we can exclude that [the theory of a lab link].”
“So one of the challenges again is, you know, the challenge of access and also transparency with regard to the hypotheses that are – that are put.”
He expressed the hope that “there will be better cooperation” – both in order to prevent a recurrence, but also because “I think we owe it to the millions who suffered and to the millions who died, really to understand what happened.”
“And I hope there will be better cooperation, and we have continued the engagement with China, and also with member-states, and there will be a better cooperation to get into the bottom of what happened.”
‘Putting a geographical label on the virus’
Tedros in his comments went further they he has before, although immediately after the expert team’s report was released in late March, he did say that all hypotheses should be investigated –disagreeing with the team’ recommendation that the theory of a laboratory accident was so unlikely that it did not warrant further study.
The U.S. is the biggest funder of the WHO by far, and Trump’s dissatisfaction with the agency’s handling of the pandemic and China last year prompted him to initiate a process of withdrawing from it.
Biden pledged while campaigning to reverse the move, and did so soon after taking office.
Also on Thursday, China’s foreign ministry announced that 44 countries had sent a joint letter to Tedros, calling for the probe into the origins of the outbreak not to be “politicized.”
“Developing countries, in the joint letter, have voiced overwhelming support for justice, which stands in stark contrast to the moves by the U.S. and a few other countries coerced by it to seek political manipulation, reject science and distort facts,” the ministry said in a statement.
It said that although international experts have recognized China’s “open and transparent attitude,” “a handful of countries, led by the U.S., have been stigmatizing the epidemic, putting a geographical label on the virus and politicizing the origins study.”
“They blatantly disregard the achievements scientists made together and turn a blind eye to science and truth for their own selfish interests,” the ministry said. “They publicly clamor for investigations conducted by intelligence agencies and falsely accuse China of not being transparent and cooperative by all means regardless of the facts.”