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'Accidents do happen': WHO chief admits it is too soon to rule out Covid-19 leaked from a lab as he demands China releases information it is holding

Postat la Jul 16, 2021

The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said there had been a 'premature push' to rule out a potential link between the coronavirus pandemic and a lab leak.

The body's director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged it was premature to rule of the theory that the virus might have escaped from a Chinese government laboratory in Wuhan.

He also said WHO was now urging China to be more transparent as scientists continue to search for the origins of the coronavirus.

Dr Ghebreyesus's comments come just weeks after he suggested that Beijing had not cooperated fully with investigations and called on China to help solve the origin of the virus out of 'respect' for the dead.

WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was premature to rule of the theory that the virus might have escaped from a Chinese government laboratory in Wuhan

In a rare departure from his usual deference, the WHO director-general said getting access to raw data had been a challenge for the international team that travelled to China earlier this year to investigate the source of Covid-19.   

Dr Tedros said that the UN health agency based in Geneva was 'asking China to be transparent, open and co-operate, especially on the information, raw data that we asked for at the early days of the pandemic'. 

'I was a lab technician myself, I'm an immunologist, and I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen,' Dr Tedros said. 'It's common.'       

In recent months, the idea that the pandemic started somehow in a laboratory - and perhaps involved an engineered virus - has gained traction, especially with US President Joe Biden ordering a review of American intelligence to assess the possibility in May.

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China has struck back aggressively, arguing that attempts to link the origins of Covid-19 to a lab were politically motivated and suggesting that the virus might have started abroad.

At WHO's annual meeting of health ministers in the spring, China said that the future search for Covid-19's origins should continue - in other countries.

Most scientists suspect that the coronavirus originated in bats, but the exact route by which it first jumped into people - via an intermediary animal or in some other way - has not yet been determined.

It typically takes decades to narrow down the natural source of an animal virus like Ebola or Sars.

The institute in Wuhan has come under increasing pressure amid the pandemic after claims emerged that the virus may have been manufactured in China

President Biden ordered agencies to 'redouble their efforts to collect and analyse information' and report back in 90 days

Dr Tedros said that 'checking what happened, especially in our labs, is important' to nailing down if the pandemic had any laboratory links.

'We need information, direct information on what the situation of this lab was before and at the start of the pandemic,' the WHO chief said, adding that China's co-operation was critical.

'If we get full information, we can exclude (the lab connection).' 

Last month, President Biden ordered agencies to 'redouble their efforts to collect and analyse information' and report back in 90 days.

According to Mr Biden, the intelligence services are currently split over the two possible sources for the virus that swept the planet over the past year, killing millions of people.

Mr Biden said that in March he asked for a report on the origins of the virus, including 'whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.'

It came amid claims that three researchers at the Wuhan lab were hospitalised with Covid-19-like symptoms in November, a month before China said it discovered the first cases of the virus.