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Business News/ News / World/  Covid origin mystery: WHO probe stalled, experts ‘allergic’ to lab theory

Another blow to two-year-long efforts to understand how Covid-19 began. Latest investigation into its origins by the World Health Organization have been inconclusive, largely because data from China is missing. Latest report from, Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO), an expert panel which had been researching the various causes suggest that the pandemic which halted the world for months probably came from animals, likely bats. It is a similar conclusion to its previous work on the topic in 2021.

Biggest hurdle in finding the root cause of the pandemic is missing data, especially from China, where the first cases were reported in December 2019. Hence, the agency believes it is not possible to identify exactly how the virus was first transmitted to humans. The findings are likely to add to doubts it will be possible to determine how and where the virus emerged.

After facing criticism over its inefficiency to handle the pandemic WHO is looking at an overhaul to reassert itself after years and better prepare for future outbreaks. However, scientists believe it is important to establish what happened to prevent similar outbreaks.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus request the Chinese government twice in earlier this year to seek more information. It claims China did provide some data but it was inadequate. The experts said no studies were provided to WHO that assessed the possibility of COVID-19 resulting from a laboratory leak. Now it says, there are "recognised challenges" in investigating "such a long time after the initial outbreak", although their work would continue.

"The longer it takes, the harder it becomes," Maria Van Kerkhove, a senior WHO official on the SAGO secretariat, was quoted in a report, who added that the WHO will support all ongoing efforts to better understand how the pandemic began.

"We owe it to ourselves, we owe to the millions of people who died and the billions of people who were infected," she said.

Jean-Claude Manuguerra, a co-chair of the 27-member international advisory group, acknowledged that some scientists might be “allergic" to the idea of investigating the lab leak theory, but said they needed to be “open-minded" enough to examine it.

The report could revive accusations that WHO initially was too accepting of Chinese government explanations early in the outbreak, which ultimately killed millions of people, sickened millions more, forced dozens of countries into lockdown and upended the world economy.

Investigations by The Associated Press found that some top WHO insiders were frustrated by China during the initial outbreak even as WHO heaped praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping. They were also upset over how China sought to clamp down on research into the origins of COVID-19.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speculated repeatedly — without evidence — that COVID-19 was started in a Chinese lab. He also accused WHO of “ colluding" with China to cover up the initial outbreak, citing the U.N. health agency's continued public praise of the country despite China's refusal to share crucial data.

Jamie Metzl, who sits on an unrelated WHO advisory group, has suggested that the Group of Seven industrialized nations set up their own COVID origins probe, saying WHO lacks the political authority, expertise and independence to conduct such a critical evaluation.

Metzl welcomed WHO's call for a further investigation into the lab leak possibility but said it was insufficient.

“Tragically, the Chinese government is still refusing to share essential raw data and will not allow the necessary, full audit of the Wuhan labs," he said. “Gaining access to this information is critical to both understanding how this pandemic began and preventing future pandemics."

In Washington, a Republican-led subcommittee in the House of Representatives on the COVID-19 pandemic tweeted: “Americans were smeared as ‘conspiracy theorists’ for asking whether #COVID19 came from a lab leak. Now, the WHO is asking the same questions."

“WE NEED ANSWERS," added the committee, which is headed by Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

(With inputs from AP)


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Updated: 10 Jun 2022, 11:17 AM IST
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