Global pressure is intensifying on Beijing to provide clarity on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) has signaled its readiness to deploy a scientific team to China for further investigations.
A previous WHO investigation in 2021, which took a team of researchers to Wuhan, the initial epicenter of the outbreak, concluded that the virus emerged naturally. This effort was heavily criticized, primarily because of perceived non-cooperation from Beijing. Accusations include withholding critical data and samples and reluctance to delve into the lab leak theory.
WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has officially communicated with Beijing, seeking “full access” to relevant sites and data. He emphasized to the Financial Times, “We’re pressing China to give full access. We have already made a written request and are prepared to send a team if permitted.”
The lack of transparency from China’s government during the 2021 inquiry drew significant criticism. WHO’s recent stance reflects an increasing readiness to criticize China over this opacity.
Nearly four years after the virus’s discovery in Wuhan, the mystery of its origin persists. Scientists stress the importance of tracing the source to prevent future outbreaks. While many believe the virus transitioned from bats through an intermediary host to humans, possibly at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, others speculate a potential leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The 2021 WHO investigation deemed a lab-origin for the virus “extremely unlikely.” Peter Ben Embarek, who led this probe, later shared that Chinese officials only discussed the lab leak hypothesis under certain conditions.
In light of inconclusive findings, a follow-up WHO inquiry was initiated but eventually stalled. Throughout the pandemic, the WHO faced criticism for its stance on China, especially during the early days when the organization seemed to echo Beijing’s narratives.
As the pandemic’s onset becomes more distant without definitive answers on its origins, WHO officials have been more vocal in their critique. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s lead on COVID, criticized China earlier this year for withholding critical data. She stated, “The lack of data disclosure is simply inexcusable.” She further hinted at the possibility of China having more data, which might offer insight into the pandemic’s origin.
Experts warn that discovering the virus’s roots becomes more challenging as time passes, potentially losing vital lessons to prevent future pandemics. The world continues to grapple with COVID-19, facing threats from new variants, such as the recent ‘Priola’ variant.
The pandemic has resulted in nearly 7 million reported deaths globally, including around 230,000 in the UK.