WHO demands 'full access' to China for Covid probe

World Health Organization demands ‘full access’ to China for inquiry into origins of Covid

  • UN agency urged for ‘full access’ from Beijing and that it is ready to send a team
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Pressure is mounting on Beijing to offer up information on the origins of the Covid pandemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned it is ready to send a team of scientists to China to probe how the virus spread to humans and plunge the world into crisis.

An initial investigation by the UN health agency in 2021, which saw a group of scientists travel to Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, concluded that Covid emerged naturally. 

It was criticised due to a lack of cooperation from Beijing, which allegedly refused to discuss the lab leak theory unless the final report stated no further investigation was needed, and withheld key data and samples. 

Now, WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has written to Beijing asking for ‘full access’ and that it was ready to send investigators.

WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the UN agency had already written to China asking the communist regime for ‘full access’

 Security personnel are pictured keeping watch during a visit to China by the WHO in 2021

‘We’re pressing China to give full access,’ he told the Financial Times.  

‘We have already asked in writing to give us information…and also [are] willing to send a team if they allow us to do so.’

The WHO held an initial probe into Covid’s origins in 2021 but this highly criticised and was marked by a lack of cooperation from Xi Jinping’s Government. 

Dr Ghebreyesus comments also mark a further willingness from the WHO to criticise China over its lack of transparency on Covid. 

Nearly four years on from when cases of the virus first emerged in Wuhan, scientists are no closer to uncovering its origin.

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Scientists claim it is vital to understand how the Covid pandemic began to prevent future outbreaks. 

Top virologists backing the natural origins theory believe the virus originated in bats and infected an intermediary species — possibly a pangolin — before then infecting humans.

Studies point to Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan as being the epicentre of the outbreak. Many of the earliest cases in December 2019 and January 2020 had visited the site, where live animals were sold.

However, others believe the virus was leaked — accidentally or on purpose — from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was conducting experiments on live bats.

The WHO’s initial 2021 investigation, which saw 17 international and 17 Chinese experts spend four weeks in and around Wuhan, famously concluded that Covid emerged naturally and that a lab leak was ‘extremely unlikely’.  

But Peter Ben Embarek, a program manager at the WHO who led the probe, later said Chinese officials only agreed to discuss the lab leak in the report on the condition that it did not call for any specific studies into the theory. 

While a second WHO probe was announced later that same year, urging China to be more transparent and cooperative, it eventually fizzled out.

The WHO has repeatedly came under fire during the pandemic for its public and stalwart defence of China.

This included initially parroting Beijing’s dismissal that the virus could leaked from the now notorious Wuhan Institute of Virology. 

In the earliest days of the outbreak, WHO director Dr Ghebreyesus even went as far as to praise Beijing’s ‘commitment to transparency’ which he called ‘beyond words’.

At around the same time, the Communist Party began censoring public information about the spread of the virus and its potential origins, at one point suggesting that US troops could have been the initial carriers.  

But as years and passed and the origins of the pandemic remain murky, WHO officials have become increasingly willing to criticise China.

World Health Organization Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Beijing on Jan. 28, 2020, ahead of their meeting to discuss how to curb the spread of then new coronavirus. Dr Tedros famously defended China’s ‘transparency’ during the initial weeks of the Covid outbreak

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid, has previously admitted she thinks China could be sitting on more bombshell evidence that could finally solve the mystery surrounding the pandemic’s origin

Infections of the Pirola strain have soared across the country, with the East of England seeing the largest number of cases due to a massive care home outbreak

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid, attacked China earlier this year for hiding crucial data on Covid’s origins for three years.

Her comments related to Beijing-affiliated researchers only publicly sharing crucial samples taken from the initial site of the Wuhan outbreak in 2020 earlier this year. 

Speaking in April this year Dr Van Kerkhove said: ‘The lack of data disclosure is simply inexcusable. 

‘The longer it takes to understand the origins of the pandemic, the harder it becomes to answer the question, and the more unsafe the world becomes.’

She added: ‘Every new piece of data could potentially move the world closer to stopping another pandemic – perhaps a worse one – in the future.

‘The failure to share information only fuels politicization of origins tracing and keeps all hypotheses viable.’

Dr Van Kerkhove also admitted that she thinks China could be sitting on even more bombshell evidence that could finally solve the mystery surrounding the pandemic’s origin.

This could include, she hinted, details into risky experiments being carried out inside the secretive facility central to the ‘lab leak’ theory.

‘China has advanced technical capabilities and I therefore believe that more data exist that have yet to be shared,’ she said. 

This included ‘on the wild and farmed animal trade; the testing of humans and animals in Wuhan and across China; the operations of labs in Wuhan working on coronaviruses; the earliest potential cases; and more’, she added.

Multiple scientists have warned that time is running out in terms of learning exactly how Covid came to be, nearly four years on from when the virus first emerged.

Experts have added this means that crucial lessons to help mitigate or prevent a similar pandemic in the future could be missed.

While the world has moved on from the darkest days of the Covid pandemic new, and concerning, variants of the virus continue to emerge.

The latest of these is a heavily mutated Omicron spin-off dubbed ‘Priola’ which sparked alarm earlier this year over fears it may cause a wave of cases this autumn.

Concerns over the variant spooked health chiefs into accelerating a planned Covid and flu vaccine drive for elderly and vulnerable people in Britain in an attempt to boost their immunity.

Since the start of the Covid pandemic almost 7million deaths from the virus have been reported to the WHO, with almost 230,000 in the UK alone.


Evidence for Wuhan lab-leak theory

An article in the respected Science journal on May 14 2021 kick-started the surge in interest for the lab-leak theory.

Some 18 experts wrote in the journal that ‘we must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data’.

Later that month, a study by British Professor Angus Dalgleish and Norwegian scientist Dr Birger Sørensen claimed it had ‘prima facie evidence of retro-engineering in China’ for a year.

The study included accusations of ‘deliberate destruction, concealment or contamination of data’ at Chinese labs.

It followed statements from the WHO Director General, US and EU that greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve.

Previously, the theory had been dismissed as conspiracy by most experts, partly because of its association with President Donald Trump.

President Joe Biden in May 2021 ordered a full investigation into the origin of the pandemic virus and demanded scientists work out whether there is truth to the theory.

In December 2021, Harvard scientist Dr Alina Chan told the UK’s Science and Technology Select Committee that it is ‘reasonable’ to believe that Covid was genetically engineered in China. 

She also said that the Chinese Communist Party’s cover-up of the initial outbreak in Wuhan two years ago and attempts to sabotage the World Health Organisation’s inquiry into the origins of the pandemic made the lab-leak theory likely. 

The head of the World Health Organization insisted just a day earlier that the theory that Covid emerged from a Wuhan lab has not been ruled out — as he said China should help solve the mystery out of ‘respect’ for the dead.

The body’s director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, suggested that Beijing had not cooperated fully as he urged more ‘transparency’ in the continuing investigation.

And a senior Government source claimed in June 2022 that the WHO boss privately believes the pandemic kicked off following a leak from a Chinese lab. 

In September 2022, leading medical journal the Lancet admitted the virus may have been leaked from a lab, including those in the US. 

Evidence against the theory

Most of the scientific community say the virus is most likely of natural origin.

A series of papers point to the virus evolving in animals before being transmitted to humans, in the same way as all other previously discovered coronaviruses.

The first study, published in Scientific Reports, showed some 47,000 wild animals from 38 species were sold across four markets in Wuhan between May 2017 and November 2019.

The authors, including Dr Chris Newman, an evolutionary ecologist at Oxford University, claimed the evidence showed the conditions for animal-to-human transmission were in place in Wuhan.

But they acknowledged there was no proof Sars-CoV-2 was present or originated in any of these animals.

A joint World Health Organization-China investigation also concluded it was ‘very likely’ the virus jumped from bats to humans via an as-yet-unknown intermediary animal.

And a June 2022 report by the WHO sets out that Covid most likely originated in bats before infecting humans.

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