TOPLINE The World Health Organization team investigating the origins of Covid-19 has not been able to uncover the source of the virus or meaningfully change our understanding of the pandemic, the group said Tuesday, though it did rule out the idea commonly touted by former President Trump that the virus escaped from a Wuhan laboratory.
- In a joint press conference led by members of WHO and Chinese delegations, experts said their two weeks in the field had uncovered new information but had not dramatically changed the picture of the pandemic.
- Peter Ben Embarek, who chaired the WHO team, said the theory that the virus escaped from a Wuhan lab is “extremely unlikely” and does not merit further study, pointing to a lack of work on similar viruses “anywhere in the world” and a strong set of lab procedures making it “very unlikely that anything could escape from that place.”
- Embarek said the most likely hypothesis remains the virus entering humans through an intermediary species—evidence suggests this could be bats or pangolins—but said the group was unable to identify a natural animal reservoir for the virus and further research would be needed.
- Embarek said further work was also needed to evaluate two other theories, such as whether the virus could have entered into humans from an animal reservoir directly or if frozen products were involved “in the introduction of the virus over a distance”.
- According to the Guardian, the Chinese delegation, which spoke first, heavily emphasized the latter theory, in fitting with ongoing efforts by officials to relocate the virus’ origins overseas.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
After months of tense buildup and diplomatic back and forth to greenlight the WHO investigation, the origins of Covid-19 remain a mystery. It is unclear whether further investigations will receive approval from the authorities, and despite its continued claims of cooperation for the mission, China repeatedly refused to authorize a visit and even blocked the team’s arrival as they were leaving their home countries. It now says its side of the investigation is over, adding that this is just the “first part” of the WHO’s “global origin tracing work.”
Amid manifold failures and mounting criticism, China became a target for Trump and Republicans looking to cast blame for the Covid-19 crisis in the United States. Beyond the virus being first detected there, the former President and his officials repeatedly pushed, without evidence, the idea that the virus also leaked from a lab in Wuhan. Trump once said he had a “high degree of confidence” in the Wuhan lab theory, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there was “enormous evidence” the claim was true.
By Robert Hart, Forbes Staff