The United States government issued a statement early this tuesday calling for a new investigation to determine the real origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, raising several questions to the report drafted by the World Health Organization and 17 chinese health experts, which concluded the virus probably came from animals and not from a lab.
The statement, endorsed by another 14 countries, calls for a “transparent and independent analysis and evaluation, free from interference and undue influence” to accurately determine the origins of the pandemic, effectively casting doubts on the validity and veracity of the report that the WHO published.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki followed a similar line at a press briefing on tuesday saying that the report lacks “crucial data, information, and access” and that any further investigation should be lead by “international and independent experts” with “unfettered access to the data”.
Lack of transparency on COVID report raises alarms
The concerns about the possible inaccuracy of the newly published WHO report are not reserved to the governments of the United States or its allies. It was also shared by the Director of the World Health Organization, who said days ago that the international community should advance with further investigations as the investigation was not extensive enough. He even stating that there should be renewed efforts at determining if the virus did come from a lab or not, a possibility that the report considered highly unlikely.
The fact that the WHO director was so quick to call the report as not extensive enough and to not dismiss the possibility of the virus originating on a lab speaks volumes about the growing mistrust on the report made by the World Health Organization.
The growing mistrust the international community is showing towards the WHO-China report on COVID’s origin comes days after the former CDC director, Robert Redfield, said in an interview with CNN that he believes COVID originated from a chinese lab, specifically the Wuhan Institution of Virology (WIV). Redfield said that he found it difficult to believe that the virus originated from a bat and that is not unusual for pathogens that are being worked in a laboratory to accidentally infect a worker.
Many have also accused the Chinese Communist Party of getting in the way of the scientific investigation and preventing the WHO officials the unrestrcited access to sites and data they needed to create their report, with the Wall Street Journal publishing a lengthy report detailing the way the commission drafted its report and how, despite the scientists best efforts, the chinese government was able to significantly limit the scope of their investigation.
The article describes how scientists were only able to observe the data analysis provided by chinese officials, not the raw data itself, while many of the members of the chinese delegation were actually part of the Foreign Ministry or from other non-scientific institutions.
The team sent to Wuhan decided unanimously that a lab leak was the less likely origin of the virus, however, the experts also said that they weren’t allowed to access significant data to further investigate the feasibility of a lab-leak origin of the virus.
Another factor that might increase the public call for a thorough investigation on the lab-theory is the fact that public functionaries of the United States State Department had previously informed Washington DC their concerns about the safety risks they saw when visiting the WIV in 2018, specifically in the containment area designed to investigate the most dangerous types of viruses, including coronaviruses, as reported by Politico.
On the other hand, many virologists also argue that there is not enough evidence yet to blame the appearance of COVID-19 to a lab accident in Wuhan, with Dr. Jason Kindrachuk arguing in an interview with Forbes in 2020 that the most likely origin for the outbreak was more likely to come from bats than from a laboratory.
More investigation on Virus’ origin is needed, but is it possible?
Regardless of the question of whether the virus originated from a wet market in Wuha, bats, imported frozen foods or the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the reality is that both the WHO director and the White House have clearly stated that the report published by WHO is not enough and that all options should be investigated in order to determine the real origin of the virus, a vital step to prevent new outbreaks in the future.
Although it is within the interest of every country in the world to have a proper and accurate understanding of what caused the pandemic, the issue will likely be victim of the renewed competition and tensions between the United States and China. With the former pressuring the latter to become more open on their early handling of the pandemic, and the latter continuing the hermetic communication strategy that has characterized Beijing’s handling of the outbreak.
Beijing has done a lot of work to try and mitigate the effects the pandemic has brought to their geopolitical position, as more Americans do not trust China and multinational corporations start to rethink their supply chains with the Asian giant. Which is why is vital for Beijing to control the flow of information regarding their handling of the pandemic, as a way to restore trust in their system.
Even if we never get to know with certainty the origins of the pandemic that paralyzed the world in 2020, the latest saga on the WHO report does illustrate to us the difficulties to achieve any type of international cooperation among global powers as mistrust between the U.S. and China continues to rise.