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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), talks to the media.

 

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged it was premature to rule out a potential link between the COVID-19 pandemic and a laboratory leak, and said he is asking China to be more transparent as scientists search for the origins of the coronavirus.

Key points:

  • WHO’s director-general asked China to be “transparent and open” and to cooperate
  • Mr Tedros said the millions of people who have suffered deserve to know what happened
  • He said there had been an early push to rule out a theory that the coronavirus might have escaped from a lab

A WHO-led team spent four weeks in and around the central city of Wuhan with Chinese researchers and said in a joint report in March that the virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal.

It said that “introduction through a laboratory incident was considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway”, but countries including the United States and some scientists were not satisfied.

“We ask China to be transparent and open and to cooperate,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Thursday.

“We owe it to the millions who suffered and the millions who died to know what happened.”

He said there had been a “premature push” to rule out the theory that the coronavirus might have escaped from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan.

A security person moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of VirologyA security person moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology

 

The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been referenced multiple times as a potential original source of the COVID-19 outbreak, but Chinese authorities deny the claims.

“It’s common. Checking what happened, especially in our labs, is important and we need information, direct information on what the situation of this lab was before and at the start of the pandemic, then, if we get full information, we can exclude that.”

China has called the theory that the virus may have escaped from a Wuhan laboratory “absurd” and said repeatedly that “politicising” the issue will hamper investigations.

Mr Tedros will brief WHO’s 194 member states on Friday regarding a proposed second phase of study, WHO’s top emergency expert Mike Ryan said.

“We look forward to working with our Chinese counterparts on that process and the director-general will outline measures to member states at a meeting tomorrow, on Friday,” he told reporters.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn, who held talks with Mr Tedros on Thursday, urged China to enable investigations into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic to continue, saying more information was needed.

Mr Spahn, speaking during a visit to the WHO headquarters in Geneva, also announced a 260 million euro ($4.1 million) donation to WHO’s ACT-Accelerator programme, which aims to ensure the entire world, including poorer countries, receive COVID-19 vaccines and tests.

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