The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has now acknowledged that a prior push to dismiss the possibility that the Covid-19 virus may have escaped from a lab in China had been “premature”.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there had been a “premature push” to rule out the theory that the virus, which has caused havoc for more than 17 months now, might have originated and been let loose unintentionally from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan.
“I was a lab technician myself, I’m an immunologist, and I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen,” Tedros said. “It’s common.
The first human cases of Covid-19 were identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The WHO chief told journalists that the agency is “asking actually China to be transparent, open and cooperate, especially on the information, raw data that we asked for at the early days of the pandemic.”
Those who previously raised the possibility of a lab leak, including whistle blowers and scientists, often found themselves excoriated by the political and media establishment and silenced on social media. Commentators who persisted in calling for a full investigation were often condemned as right-wing conspiracy theorists, but the idea has now gained momentum and US President Joe Biden has ordered a review of intelligence to assess the possibility.
In March, the WHO issued a report on the source of the Covid-19 virus, which concluded that a laboratory leak was “extremely unlikely”. However the Director-General said that aid getting access to raw data had been a challenge for the international team that traveled to China earlier this year to investigate.
The report faced criticism for not evaluating the lab-leak theory more deeply, and Dr Tedros has indicated that more investigation into the hypothesis was needed.
Pointing to the more than four million official deaths from Covid worldwide, the WHO chief has said: “I think we owe it to them to know what happened.”