China forced COVID-19 origins probe to drop lab-leak theory: WHO

Washington: Chinese researchers at the World Health Organization-led team probing the origins of the coronavirus pandemic pushed against the lab-leak theory, said a WHO scientist, who led the group, in a Danish documentary.

In the documentary, titled “The Virus Mystery”, Peter Ben Embarek said the Chinese researchers were against the theory that Covid-19 pandemic emerged from a genetically modified virus which leaked from the infamous Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the Washington Post reported.

“In the beginning, they didn’t want anything about the lab (in the report), because it was impossible, so there was no need to waste time on that,” the Post quoted Embarek as saying during the interview.

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“We insisted on including it, because it was part of the whole issue about where the virus originated,” he added.

A team of experts from the WHO, led by Embarek spent four weeks in China, in January, to investigate whether Covid-19 is the result of a lab-leak. Their report, in March, concluded that a laboratory leak was “extremely unlikely”.

According to Embarek, the Chinese researchers agreed to include the lab-leak theory in the report “on the condition we didn’t recommend any specific studies to further that hypothesis”.

Moreover, Embarek noted that the term “extremely unlikely” about the lab-leak in the report “was the category we chose to put it in at the enda, which meant it was not impossible, just not likely, the Post reported. He hinted at the possibility of a “human error”.

“A lab employee infected in the field while collecting samples in a bat cave, such a scenario belongs both as a lab-leak hypothesis and as our first hypothesis of direct infection from bat to human. We’ve seen that hypothesis as a likely hypothesis,” Embarek said.

Undermining its report, the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, last month, stated that it was premature on the global health body’s part to rule out a potential link between the Covid pandemic and a laboratory leak.

He asked China to be more transparent on the issue of data sharing, and also proposed a second phase of studies which China rejected, accusing the WHO of “arrogance” and a “disrespect for common sense”.

Embarek did not respond to follow-up questions by the Post and stated that the interview had been mistranslated in English-language media coverage.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic also said that the comment was mistranslated and that the interview took place “months ago”, the Post reported.

The documentary was scheduled to air on TV2 on Thursday evening.

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