WHO to cancel release of interim report to China to investigate origin of virus

WHO team to investigate in China this January

The WHO team that went to China to investigate the origin of pneumonia in Wuhan plans to abandon the release of its interim report on the trip to China.

The WHO team went to China in mid-January for a four-week investigation, and WHO Director-General Desai Tan said on Feb. 12 that the team would issue an interim report briefly outlining its mission in Wuhan, followed by a detailed report on the investigation. But Peter Ben Embarek, the Food safety scientist leading the WHO investigation team, said recently that the interim summary report had not been released and that the WHO team was now cancelling the release.

“By definition, a summary report does not contain all the details,” and providing only a summary does not satisfy reader curiosity. Embrek said WHO will release a detailed report including key findings in the coming weeks.

According to the Wall Street Journal, WHO made the decision because of wide disagreements between the U.S. and China over the investigation into the origins of the virus, increased tensions and calls from an international group of scientists for a new investigation.

An open letter released on Thursday by 26 scientists and experts in the fields of virology, zoology and microbiology called for a new international investigation. The experts argue that previous investigations in Wuhan, where the initial outbreak occurred, were unable to fully investigate all possible sources of the virus.

The letter notes that it is “virtually impossible” for the WHO team to conduct a full investigation and that any report by the team would likely involve political compromise, as the report would have to be approved by the Chinese side.

The experts, from France, the United States, India, Australia and other countries, said in the letter that a credible investigation would need to include confidential interviews and a comprehensive look at hospital records of confirmed and potential cases at the Time of the outbreak in late 2019. Investigators would also need access to all coronavirus-related laboratory records, including maintenance, personnel, animal breeding and laboratory logs. Thus, “the efforts to date do not constitute a thorough, reliable and transparent investigation.”

At the initial conclusion of the investigation, the WHO team had issued a press release agreeing with the Chinese Communist authorities, ruling out the claim that the virus was leaked from the laboratory.

But after WHO investigation experts left China, some publicly said they were unable to conduct a full audit of any laboratory, and the panel also lacked important data on the first confirmed cases or the earliest patients hospitalized with similar symptoms. Embrek also told a workshop last week that the possibility of a lab leak was definitely not ruled out.