WHO chief to ‘push until we get the answer’ on COVID-19 origins


GENEVA— The World Health Organization will continue pushing until it finds an answer to how the COVID-19 pandemic started, the agency’s chief said following a report suggesting it had abandoned the search.

Solving the mystery of where the SARS CoV-2 virus came from and how it began spreading among humans is considered vital for averting future pandemics.

Yet an article on the Nature website Tuesday said faced with a lack of cooperation from China, where the outbreak began in late 2019, the WHO had given up on the search.

“We need to continue to push until we get the answer,” agency chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters, referring to the search for the origins of the virus.

“Knowing how this pandemic started is very, very important and very crucial,” he said.

He said he had recently sent a letter to a top official in China “asking for cooperation, because we need cooperation and transparency in the information … in order to know how this started”.

The two main theories that have been hotly debated have centred on the virus naturally spilling over from bats to an intermediary animal and into humans, or escaping due to a lab accident.

The WHO carried out a first phase of investigation by sending a team of international experts to Wuhan, China, in early 2021 to produce a first phase report, written in conjunction with their Chinese counterparts.

But that investigation faced criticism for lacking transparency and access, and for not sufficiently evaluating the lab-leak theory, which it deemed “extremely unlikely”.

The political rhetoric reached fever-pitch over that theory, which was favoured by the administration of former US president Donald Trump but always flatly rejected by China.

Tedros has meanwhile from the start insisted that all hypotheses remained on the table, and the WHO has repeatedly called on China to provide further access to investigate.

Tedros said there were two reasons for not abandoning the origins search.

The first was scientific, he said: “We need to know how this started in order to prevent the next one.”

“The second (is) moral: millions of people lost their lives, and many suffered, and the whole world was taken hostage by a virus.”

“It’s morally very important to know how we lost our loved ones.”