Chinese officials appear to have done “little” to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic eight months after the Wuhan outbreak was declared, The Guardian reports, citing what it says is an internal WHO memo.
The two-page document – said to be an internal travel report summary by WHO officials dated 10 August 2020, reportedly indicates that the global health watchdog’s officials were provided little new information by their Chinese counterparts in verbal conversations, and no documents or written data whatsoever.
“Following extensive discussions with and presentation from Chinese counterparts, it appears that little had been done in terms of epidemiological investigations around Wuhan since 2020. The data presented orally gave a few more details than what was presented at the emergency committee meetings in January 2020. No PowerPoint presentations were made and no documents were shared,” the report said.
The summary is said to have been compiled by mission leader Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO food safety and zoonoses specialist, after multiple face-to-face meetings with health authorities, the ministry of agriculture, and personnel from agencies including the Wuhan Institute of Virology – the P4 lab Western intelligence agencies have previously alleged may have inadvertently leaked a mutated coronavirus into the wild.
Neither the WHO nor Chinese officials have commented on the content of the fact finding mission’s summary, nor the veracity of The Guardian’s reporting.
The WHO carried out a second, month-long fact-finding trip to Wuhan in January-February 2021, concluding that the novel coronavirus was very unlikely to have been leaked from a lab, and that the exact animal source of the outbreak has yet to be identified.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration asked China to hand over all data related to the Covid-19 pandemic after expressing “deep concerns” over a report by the Wall Street Journal which accused Chinese officials of deliberately withholding information from the WHO investigative mission.
The lab leak theory was popularized last year amid mutual recriminations by Washington and Beijing about the virus’s origins, with Washington and its allies citing the theory, and China countering by claiming the US Army may have spread the virus in the city during the 2019 Military World Games.
Neither side has provided conclusive proof to back up its claims. However, the US allegations about the virus’s alleged origins in a lab generally died down by the summer of 2020 following media investigations which revealed that Chinese, American, Canadian and Australian scientists and institutions had collaborated heavily in experiments on potentially dangerous bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab, with the US National Institutes of Public Health alone reportedly said to have contributed some $3.7 million in grant money for bat virus transmission research.