A TEAM of World Health Organisation experts probing the origins of Covid-19 is scrapping a top level report on its recent mission to China, say reports.
No reasons were apparently given for the decision to ditch the interim report but the move comes after a string of delays and a dramatic U-turn by the WHO.
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WIV is known to have been experimenting with bat coronavirusesCredit: Wuhan Virology Institute
And after it was accused of “a whitewash” by saying it found Covid probably did not originate at the Wuhan wet market or from a state science lab leak.
The much-heralded probe had been plagued by delays, concern over access and bickering between Beijing and Washington.
Tensions were heightened when the US accused China of hiding the extent of the initial outbreak and criticised the terms of the WHO visit, under which Chinese experts conducted the first phase of research.
The team, which spent four weeks looking into the origins of the outbreak, was limited to visits organised by their hosts and prevented from contact with community members, due to health restrictions.
Earlier today it was reported the lead investigator on the team admitted the lab leak theory is now “definitely NOT off the table”.
Dr Peter Ben Embarek said they didn’t get “hard facts or detailed data” from the Chinese lab at the centre of a storm over the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.
Embarek, an expert on animal diseases and food safety, stressed he was skeptical of the theory that the virus emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) – but admitted it was still a possibility.
The WHO team visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology as part of their investigationCredit: EPA
Peter Ben Embarek admitted they didn’t get ‘hard facts or detailed data’ from the labCredit: AP:Associated Press
The WIV is known to have been experimenting with bat coronaviruses and creating infectious hybrid strains for tests – and is located just a stone’s throw from where the virus first emerged in December 2019.
The WHO team visited the lab as part of their mission – which was tightly controlled and stage managed by China.
Embarek previously said the lab leak theory would not be recommended for “future studies” and was considered “extremely unlikely”.
In an astonishing U-turn, he admitted it was still one of the four theories being explored and repeated twice that it is “not off the table”.
“I take it you found no research into SARS-CoV-2 in any of the labs. It’s hard to imagine how it could leak if they don’t even have it,” Fisher said.
“Exactly, but of course, as I said, we didn’t do an audit of any of these labs, so we don’t really have hard facts or detailed data on the work done,” Embarek said.
“But from what was presented both for and against these hypotheses – mind you, those claiming that it can only be due to a laboratory accident or leak have not been able to put any pieces of evidence on the table, so it’s very difficult to act and plan forward with on claims.”
The lab is located just a stone’s throw from where the virus first emerged in December, 2019Credit: AFP – Getty
Embarek said the lab leak was still one of the four theories being exploredCredit: AFP or licensors
Fisher asked: “Did you really confirm that there was no such SARS-COV-2 virus in any of the labs, there were no sick staff – how much did you go into that?”
Embarek replied: “We had discussions, and we had visits to all the labs of relevance in Wuhan, so we saw a few of them, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“The laboratory accident is part of our hypothesis, we have been discussing it openly with our counterparts, which I think is the first time that this has been possible. So that in itself is good progress.”
Last month, a WHO scientist who was also part of the team sent to Wuhan stressed that the leak hypothesis remains on the table.
Professor John Watson appeared BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show and he said additional investigations were needed to look at a potential leak from the WIV “in more detail”.
“That’s a hypothesis that remains on the table and could certainly have further work done on it,” Prof Watson told Marr.
He revealed that the Communist Party refused to hand over raw data that was requested by the mission.
The New York Times also reported that Chinese officials had urged the WHO team to “embrace the government’s narrative about the source of the virus”.
WHO investigators and their Chinese counterparts appeared to offer more questions than answers when they revealed their findings in a three-hour press conference in February.
The joint event offered many explanations and theories on the origins of the virus – but the only one seemingly dismissed was the lab leak.
What do we know about the Wuhan Institure of Virology?
THE WUHAN Institute of Virology is the highest security lab of its kind in all of China – and can be found right at the heart of the origins of the global pandemic.
Various theories have been swirling about the lab, which is headed up by Chinese scientist Dr Shi Zhengli, known as “Bat Woman”.
Most scientists do not believe the virus leaked from the lab, and the lab itself has categorically denied the claims.
The lab specialised in bat-borne viruses and had been carrying out experiences on them since 2015.
Airlocks, full body suits, and chemical showers are required before entering and leaving the lab – the first in China to be accredited with biosafety level 4 (BSL-4).
BSL-4 labs are the only places in the world where scientists can study diseases that have no cure.
Scientists from the lab even tested mysterious
virus which killed three miners 1,000 miles away in Yunnan province back in 2012.
It has been suggested this fatal mystery bug may have been the true origin of Covid-19.
Experts at the lab also engineered a new type of hybrid ‘super-virus’ that can infect humans in 2015, according to medical journal Nature Medicine
Despite fears surrounding the research, the study was designed to show the risk of viruses carried by bats which could be transmitted to humans.
There is no suggestion the facility’s 2015 work is linked to the pandemic.
The lab was also recruiting new scientists to probe coronaviruses in bats just seven days before the outbreak.
China has began tightening security around its biolabs with President Xi Jinping saying it was a “national security” issue to improve scientific safety at a meeting last February.
Further admissions by WHO that the virus may have come from outside China and its apparent backing of the Communist Party’s theory that the virus may have come from “frozen food” led to allegations the probe was a “whitewash”.
The organisation itself is already facing questions about how it handled the early days of the pandemic, being accused by the US of being “China-centric”.
It comes after a study claimed that a mysterious dark database hidden by China could be the smoking gun which proves the virus did leak from the Wuhan lab.
This week, The Sun Online revealed that the closely guarded cache of information is believed to include unpublished samples of data on new viruses and hidden bat collection sties.
Most of the WIV’s databases were once accessible online – but have since all been systematically taken offline by China.
And it is believed one of the data files – which was password protected before being taken down – could be holding information on new viruses.
Gilles Demaneuf, a data analyst from DRASTIC, an international team of scientists and sleuths attempting to fill in the gaps on Covid’s origins, compiled a 25-page report on the WIV databases.
He told The Sun Online he considers it definitive proof of a “deliberate attempt” at a cover up by China.
“The removal of access to basically all the virus databases of the WIV – around 15 of them – cannot be described as anything other than a deliberate attempt to prevent a proper investigation based on facts and hard data,” he said.
The WIV has previously insisted any data removed from their online archives was done so due to fear of cyber attacks.
China and the lab have always furiously denied any allegations of a possible leakCredit: AP:Associated Press
Embarek previously said the theory was considered ‘extremely unlikely’Credit: AFP or licensors
China and the lab have always furiously denied any allegations of a possible leak.
Zeng Guang, a chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, even urged the WHO to probe a US bioweapons lab for allegedly “leaking Covid”.
“The United States has biological laboratories all over the world. Why does the United States have so many laboratories? What is the purpose of this?” he told Chinese media.
He claimed that the bug did not start in Wuhan as part of China’s campaign to question where the pandemic began.
But the White House has said it has “deep concerns” over the WHO investigation which was carried out in a tightly managed fashion alongside China.
Scientists who were on the team have already broken cover and revealed China did not hand over all the data they requested, and there was always “politics in the room”.
Documents already revealed Beijing downplayed the bug to “protect its image” – and there have been repeated allegations that China has manipulated its death and case figures.
And last month, new documents released by the US revealed scientists in Wuhan fell ill with Covid-like symptoms in late 2019 – months before the pandemic began to ravage the world.