W.H.O. Won’t Issue Interim Report on Wuhan Visit, Citing Insufficient Data from China

WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 28: An aerial view of the city sunset on January 28, 2021 in Wuhan, China. In order to curb the spread of the new crown pneumonia COVID-19 disease, the Chinese government closed the city of Wuhan for 76 days starting January 23, 2020. (Photo by Lintao …
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Thursday morning reported the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) is scrapping the interim report from a team of investigators who visited Wuhan, China, in early February, under pressure from scientists who said the Chinese government withheld too much data from the investigating team, necessitating a new and more exhaustive investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.

The WSJ said W.H.O. made its decision “against a backdrop of continued political and scientific controversy surrounding the search for the origins of the pandemic.”

According to W.H.O. administrators and members of the investigating team, a full report about the Wuhan visit will still be published “in the coming weeks” and will include “key findings,” but the interim report promised by W.H.O. director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on February 12 will not be released.

An influential group of scientists apparently precipitated this decision by writing an open letter that essentially dismissed the February mission to Wuhan and called for a do-over — a much more thorough investigation that would review data unacceptably withheld by Chinese officials:

According to an advance copy of the open letter, the group of 26 scientists and other experts in areas including virology, zoology and microbiology said that it was “all but impossible” for the WHO team to conduct a full investigation, and that any report was likely to involve political compromises as it had to be approved by the Chinese side.

A credible investigation required, among other things, confidential interviews and fuller access to hospital records of confirmed and potential Chinese coronavirus cases in late 2019, when the outbreak was first identified in Wuhan, said the letter signed by experts from France, the U.S., India, Australia, and other countries. Investigators should also be allowed to view records including maintenance, personnel, animal breeding and experiment logs from all laboratories working with coronaviruses, the letter said.

“We cannot afford an investigation into the origins of the pandemic that is anything less than absolutely thorough and credible,” the letter said. “Efforts to date do not constitute a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation.”

The letter specifically rejected the notion, the product of the Wuhan visit, of ruling out China’s virus labs as a possible origin for the coronavirus, stating the W.H.O. team had “insufficient access to adequately investigate” that theory. In fact, the signatories said it remains possible the Chinese coronavirus was the subject of “gain-of-function” genetic manipulation experiments that made it more deadly.

The leader of the W.H.O. team, Danish food scientist Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, said after returning from Wuhan that laboratory accidents are “definitely not off the table” as a potential source of the global pandemic.

The scientific community, including some participants in the W.H.O. mission to Wuhan, has been fidgeting uncomfortably ever since the team returned. These scientists seemed especially uncomfortable with China’s use of the investigation for propaganda purposes, including confident declarations that W.H.O. has forever exonerated the Chinese government from responsibility for unleashing the Chinese coronavirus. In fact, the CCP has asserted W.H.O.’s research ruled out Wuhan itself as the point of origin for the pandemic, insisting other nations should be investigated as sources of the virus who spread it to China.

Scientists around the world have also grown uneasy over China’s refusal to hand over source data for several key aspects of the early coronavirus pandemic to W.H.O. In several instances, Chinese officials presented investigators with analysis prepared by Chinese doctors but refused to let the investigators see the original records or medical samples the analysis was based on.

The WSJ noted Beijing is extremely unlikely to authorize a more thorough probe or admit the previous one was inadequate. The Chinese Foreign Ministry dismissed the open letter critical of Chinese transparency as merely “new wine in old bottles.”

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