Update (1630ET): Now that the report is out, the US and a group of 13 countries responded by releasing a statement raising "concerns" with the WHO report, and the fact that the international team of investigators wasn't allowed access to critical information.
"We voice our shared concerns that the international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples," the countries said in a joint statement.
As we noted earlier, many questions have been raised about the independence of the WHO-convened team of exports, who worked jointly with Chinese scientists and handlers in a way that clearly limited their access.
Asked on Tuesday at a White House press briefing if China had cooperated enough with the report, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said "They [China have not been transparent, they have not provided underlying data, that certainly doesn't qualify as cooperation."
"We don't believe that in our review to date that it meets the moment," she added.
The statement demanded that "going forward, there must now be a renewed commitment by WHO and all Member States to access, transparency, and timeliness" in a not-so-veiled dig at Beijing's unwillingness to share data on suspicious cases that might have been early cases of COVID.
Along with the U.S., the statement was joined by Australia, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, South Korea, Slovenia and the United Kingdom.
Read the statement in its entirety below:
The Governments of Australia, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America remain steadfast in our commitment to working with the World Health Organization (WHO), international experts who have a vital mission, and the global community to understand the origins of this pandemic in order to improve our collective global health security and response. Together, we support a transparent and independent analysis and evaluation, free from interference and undue influence, of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this regard, we join in expressing shared concerns regarding the recent WHO-convened study in China, while at the same time reinforcing the importance of working together toward the development and use of a swift, effective, transparent, science-based, and independent process for international evaluations of such outbreaks of unknown origin in the future.
The mission of the WHO is critical to advancing global health and health security, and we fully support its experts and staff and recognize their tireless work to bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, including understanding how the pandemic started and spread. With such an important mandate, it is equally essential that we voice our shared concerns that the international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples. Scientific missions like these should be able to do their work under conditions that produce independent and objective recommendations and findings. We share these concerns not only for the benefit of learning all we can about the origins of this pandemic, but also to lay a pathway to a timely, transparent, evidence-based process for the next phase of this study as well as for the next health crises.
We note the findings and recommendations, including the need for further studies of animals to find the means of introduction into humans, and urge momentum for expert-driven phase 2 studies. Going forward, there must now be a renewed commitment by WHO and all Member States to access, transparency, and timeliness. In a serious outbreak of an unknown pathogen with pandemic potential, a rapid, independent, expert-led, and unimpeded evaluation of the origins is critical to better prepare our people, our public health institutions, our industries, and our governments to respond successfully to such an outbreak and prevent future pandemics. It is critical for independent experts to have full access to all pertinent human, animal, and environmental data, research, and personnel involved in the early stages of the outbreak relevant to determining how this pandemic emerged. With all data in hand, the international community may independently assess COVID-19 origins, learn valuable lessons from this pandemic, and prevent future devastating consequences from outbreaks of disease.
We underscore the need for a robust, comprehensive, and expert-led mechanism for expeditiously investigating outbreaks of unknown origin that is conducted with full and open collaboration among all stakeholders and in accordance with the principles of transparency, respect for privacy, and scientific and research integrity. We will work collaboratively and with the WHO to strengthen capacity, improve global health security, and inspire public confidence and trust in the world’s ability to detect, prepare for, and respond to future outbreaks.
We imagine reports of the statement will be duly modified by China's state-controlled press to reflect just how grateful the international is to have Beijing's cooperation in this matter.
* * *
After abruptly delaying the release of a long-waited report on the origins of the coronavirus, a version of the report was leaked over the weekend (following reports that Chinese officials had interfered in the review process).
On Sunday night, 60 Minutes raised some serious questions about the WHO's investigation of the pandemic's origins in the city of Wuhan. When interviewer Lesley Stahl accused a member of the WHO team of simply taking Beijing's word for it. He replied, incredulously, "what else can we do?"
Well, it appears the WHO leadership in Geneva has accepted the fact that their "report" on the virus's origins, which essentially confirmed speculation that first surfaced more than a year ago (that the virus entered the human population from bats via an intermediary, possibly a civet or another such creature) has failed to dissuade the public of the notion that the virus likely leaked from a nearby lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus heralded the report's release on Tuesday with a mea culpa for the WHO: Dr. Tedros said the mission to China didn't adequately explore whether the virus might have leaked from the lab, before saying that more studies will be needed.
"In my discussions with the team, they expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing raw data," Dr. Tedros said. "I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing." The conclusions that the virus origins remains incomplete likely means that tensions over how the pandemic started - and whether China has helped or hinder efforts to find out, as the United States has alleged - will continue.
This marks the first time the WHO has appeared willing to countenance the possibility that the virus might have leaked from the lab, something former Trump national security official Matt Pottinger has repeatedly warned about.
What's more, Dr. Tedros said China withheld raw data on early COVID cases from the team of researchers, which had requested it.
In a tweet published just hours before Dr. Tedros made his remarks, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed the report as a "sham".
The WHO report is a sham continuation of the CCP-WHO disinformation campaign. It’s why I recommended we leave WHO. Dr. Tedros collaborated with Xi to hide human to human transmission at a CRITICAL juncture. WIV remains the most likely source of the virus — and WHO is complicit.— Mike Pompeo (@mikepompeo) March 30, 2021
Mission leader Peter Ben Embarek said Tuesday as the report was released that the team hadn't done a "full audit" of laboratories (since it's so obvious that nobody is hiding anything.). He described the report as "a work in progress" and added that "until we have a firm lead leading us in one direction we aren't closing the other doors".
*WHO'S BEN EMBAREK: HAVEN'T DONE FULL AUDIT OF LABORATORIES— zerohedge (@zerohedge) March 30, 2021
Because clearly nobody is hiding anything
As far as the lab-leak theory goes, Embarek acknowledged that "it's possible." But more studies are needed, and whether or not Beijing will cooperate remains unclear.
"I think there is a consensus that new studies need to be undertaken preferably as soon as possible...but in the proper way...well-planned...well-organized." Some are ongoing, some still need to be started, Ben Embarek said.
In the report, the team acknowledged that despite China's insistence that the Huanan Wet Market was ground zero for the Wuhan outbreak, none of the animal products sampled at the market tested positive. Still, they insisted that the "lab leak" scenario was the least likely hypothesis.
One way the team could help determine the virus's origin, and thus test the theory that it occurred naturally, would be to access massive troves of patient data from across China stretching back to Sept. 2019, months before the outbreak was reported to the WHO.
But China has steadfastly refused to provide this data. And as such, Dr Tedros added in a tweet that "all hypotheses remain on the table."
Finding the origin of a virus takes time and we owe it to the world to find the #COVID19 virus source so we can collectively take steps to reduce the risk of this happening again. No single research trip can provide all the answers.— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) March 30, 2021
He better be careful...
Watch it Ted or there is a mansion in Xinjian with your name on it https://t.co/FeeWikYFcc— zerohedge (@zerohedge) March 30, 2021
While the WHO's willingness to anger Beijing with this latest pronouncement about the virus's origins may come as a surprise, in one respect, the agency had little choice: to western readers, the lack of Chinese cooperation and the obvious dissembling surrounding key aspects of the investigation are simply too suspicious to ignore. And no matter what the agency says, readers could easily come to their own conclusions.
Readers can read Dr. Tedros' full remarks here. The closing remarks, where Dr. Tedros noted the fact the review is essentially incomplete, can be found in full below:
Thank you, Dr Peter Ben Embarek, Professor Liang and the whole team for sharing your report and presenting your findings.
I welcome your report, which advances our understanding in important ways.
It also raises further questions that will need to be addressed by further studies, as the team itself notes in the report.
As Member States have heard, the report presents a comprehensive review of available data, suggesting that there was unrecognized transmission in December 2019, and possibly earlier.
The team reports that the first detected case had symptom onset on the 8th of December 2019. But to understand the earliest cases, scientists would benefit from full access to data including biological samples from at least September 2019.
In my discussions with the team, they expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing raw data. I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing.
I welcome the recommendations for further studies to understand the earliest human cases and clusters, to trace the animals sold at markets in and around Wuhan, and to better understand the range of potential animal hosts and intermediaries.
The role of animal markets is still unclear.
The team has confirmed that there was widespread contamination with SARS-CoV-2 in the Huanan market in Wuhan, but could not determine the source of this contamination.
Again, I welcome the recommendations for further research, including a full analysis of the trade in animals and products in markets across Wuhan, particularly those linked to early human cases.
I concur with the team’s conclusion that farmers, suppliers and their contacts will need to be interviewed.
The team also addressed the possibility that the virus was introduced to humans through the food chain.
Further study will be important to identify what role farmed wild animals may have played in introducing the virus to markets in Wuhan and beyond.
The team also visited several laboratories in Wuhan and considered the possibility that the virus entered the human population as a result of a laboratory incident.
However, I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough. Further data and studies will be needed to reach more robust conclusions.
Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy.
We will keep you informed as plans progress, and as always, we very much welcome your input.
Let me say clearly that as far as WHO is concerned all hypotheses remain on the table.
This report is a very important beginning, but it is not the end. We have not yet found the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and leave no stone unturned as we do.
Finding the origin of a virus takes time and we owe it to the world to find the source so we can collectively take steps to reduce the risk of this happening again.
No single research trip can provide all the answers.
It is clear that we need more research across a range of areas, which will entail further field visits.
Before I conclude I want to express my thanks to the experts from around the world and China who participated in the report, and look forward to continuing this important work.
Excellencies, as always, we are grateful for your continuing engagement, and we look forward to your questions and comments.
Embarek also pushed back against reports that China tried to meddle with the report, which can be read in its entirety below: