WHO Official Claims China Adversely Impacted Report
Chinese pressured Who from investigating if the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology or another institution in the Chinese city where the illness was first identified and disseminated.
A scientist from the World Health Organization oversaw a contentious collaborative investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic claims in a documentary shown on Danish television on Thursday night that Chinese colleagues impacted the presentation of their results.
During an interview with Danish documentary filmmakers, Peter Ben Embarek said that Chinese experts on the team had resisted connecting the epidemic's roots to a research facility in Wuhan, as was suggested in a report about the inquiry.
According to Ben Embarek,
"In the beginning, they didn't want anything about the lab in the report because it was impossible, so there was no need to waste time on that," Ben Embarek said during the interview. "We insisted on including it because it was part of the whole issue about where the virus originated."
Earlier this year, the WHO-China team said that it was "extremely improbable" that the virus, formally known as SARS-CoV-2, had inadvertently escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology or another institution in the Chinese city where the first cases of the disease were discovered and spread.
The combined team of experts concluded that additional inquiry into the matter was not warranted in its report.
According to Ben Embarek, a debate over whether or not to include the lab-leak hypothesis in the mission's final report continued until 48 hours before the mission's completion.
In the end, Ben Embarek's Chinese counterpart agreed to include a discussion of the lab-leak idea in the report "on the condition that we did not propose any particular research to advance that hypothesis," according to the report.
"It was the category we decided to put it in in the end, yeah," Ben Embarek stated in the documentary when asked if the report's "very improbable" language about the lab-leak hypothesis was a Chinese requirement.
However, he went on to say that this did not rule out the possibility, only that it was unlikely.
A scenario in which a lab employee inadvertently brought the virus to Wuhan after collecting samples in the field could be considered both a lab leak theory and a hypothesis of direct infection from a bat, according to Ben Embarek, could be regarded as both a lab leak theory and a hypothesis of direct infection from a bat, which was described as "likely" in the report.
That idea has been identified as a probable candidate, "Ben Embarek said himself.
Ben Embarek made additional comments during the interview that were not included in the documentary but were included in an account by the Danish television channel TV2 on its website. He suggested that there could have been "human error" but that the Chinese political system does not allow authorities to admit that there had been a mistake.
The report cited Ben Embarek as stating, It's likely that there was a human mistake behind such an occurrence, and they're not very pleased about admitting it."
A lab employee infected in the field while collecting samples in a bat cave - such a scenario belongs both as a lab-leak hypothesis and our first hypothesis of direct infection from bat to human. We've seen that hypothesis as a likely hypothesis."
"It probably means there's a human error behind such an event, and they're not very happy to admit that," Ben Embarek was quoted as saying. "The whole system focuses a lot on being infallible, and everything must be perfect," he added. "Somebody could also wish to hide something. Who knows?"
On being questioned about his comments, Ben Embarek first said that the interview had been mistranslated in the English-language media coverage of the event.
"It is an incorrect translation from a Danish paper," he said, refusing to comment more and directing The Washington Post to the World Health Organization.
When pressed for a response, he did not immediately come forward.
Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization, also said that the remark was mistranslated and that the interview took place "months ago."
There are no new elements, nor has the position [that] all hypotheses are on the table. WHO is working with member states on the next step," Jasarevic said, referring to statements made by senior officials from the World Health Organization about an investigation into the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Africa.
It was broadcast on TV2 in the early evening on Thursday, titled "The Virus Mystery."
Ben Embarek had cooperated with the documentary filmmakers, even going so far as to record his journey to China for them on his phone to give them an inside look at a closed-off trip that was otherwise unavailable.
Earlier this year, Ben Embarek led a delegation of international scientists on a trip to China. They collaborated with local authorities to explore the beginnings of a pandemic that has resulted in more than 200 million verified cases and at least 4.3 million fatalities globally.
It was clear from away that the trip would be marred by controversy.
Chinese authorities held up permission for the WHO mission, delaying the researchers' arrival. At the same time, several of the foreign specialists on the team were attacked for previous connections with the Chinese government.
After arriving in the field, the WHO team had just two weeks to complete its study since it was subjected to stringent quarantine protocols while on the ground.
After the team's report was published in late March, it was met with even more skepticism.
It was determined that the concept of zoonotic transmission from animals to people was "most probable" after the researchers examined four potential scenarios for how the virus was initially transmitted to humans.
Other, less probable possibilities included the possibility that the virus was brought into China on frozen food. Chinese authorities have repeatedly promoted this notion, but foreign scientists widely dismiss it as doubtful.
This hypothesis, which has been the topic of much debate in recent years in the United States, has been labeled the least probable scenario by the WHO team. It has been discontinued from further investigation.
Even those who were skeptical of the idea were taken aback by the rejection.
At a press conference to commemorate the report's publication, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the situation needs to be investigated more in-depth.
Although the team has determined that a laboratory leak is the least probable explanation, Tedros believes more research is necessary, perhaps requiring further missions with specialized specialists, which he is prepared to dispatch.
"Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy," Tedros said.
Ben Embarek and other academics on the team have alluded to tremendous pressure from all sides during the trip, including as many as 60 Chinese colleagues working with not just scientists but also public health officials and officials from the Ministry of Health.
According to him, "The politics was always in the room with us on the other side of the table," according to an interview published in February by Science Magazine.
Toward the end of this month, the United States intelligence community is scheduled to conclude a 90-day assessment of the evidence surrounding the coronavirus's origins.
Tedros also said that the World Health Organization (WHO) would continue its inquiry into the outbreak's origins, despite Chinese officials stating last month that they would find it "difficult" to accept a prolonged probe focusing on China.
WHO official says China pressured him to drop lab leak hypothesis