Jamie Metzl, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and an adviser to the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), on Monday joined the growing number of scientists and political leaders around the world who questioned the credibility of W.H.O.’s report on the origins of the coronavirus.
Metzl said the report was compromised by Chinese government interference and did not provide enough evidence to rule out any hypothesis, including the Chinese coronavirus escaping from a Chinese laboratory.
“People feel this must be a World Health Organization investigation. It’s not. It’s not an investigation and the World Health Organization isn’t doing it. It’s an independent committee with their Chinese government counterparts. So anything that they come out with is going to be a compromise, a consensus between this committee and the Chinese government,” Metzl told Laura Ingraham of Fox News.
Metzl pointed out that the weight of reliable evidence – as opposed to Chinese government agents expecting their conclusions to be taken on faith – does not support W.H.O.’s official conclusion that laboratory origin is the least likely scenario for the origin of the Chinese coronavirus:
It could be possible that COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] began through a zoonotic jump through animal hosts. It also could very well be possible that it comes from an accidental lab leak. There’s a lot of evidence that suggests – it’s all circumstantial – that that is a very, very real possibility, that the virus comes from horseshoe bats that are more than a thousand miles away from Wuhan, but what Wuhan has is China’s only level four virology institute, the world’s largest collection of bat coronaviruses that was doing dangerous gain of function research with a spotty security record and we have this massive Chinese cover-up that came afterwards.
So nobody knows or very few people know what exactly the story was, but at the very least, we need a full and credible investigation exploring all hypotheses.
Metzl’s remarks were consistent with many other criticisms of the W.H.O. report leveled since an early draft leaked over the weekend – including from W.H.O. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the leader of the team sent to Wuhan, Peter Ben Embarek, who conceded (less bluntly than Metzl) that China did not give the investigators adequate access to raw data.
Embarek gave the Chinese an out by claiming privacy and legal considerations could have prevented his team from accessing the data – a grimly amusing contention, given authoritarian China’s notions of “privacy rights” and “due process” – while Tedros sounded considerably more frustrated.
“I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing,” the W.H.O. director said on Tuesday.
The U.S. State Department posted a statement on Tuesday, cosigned by 13 other nations, that raised “shared concerns” about the W.H.O. report. Other signatories included Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
“Scientific missions like these should be able to do their work under conditions that produce independent and objective recommendations and findings. We share these concerns not only for the benefit of learning all we can about the origins of this pandemic, but also to lay a pathway to a timely, transparent, evidence-based process for the next phase of this study as well as for the next health crises,” the statement said.
Dr. Steven Quay, who along with Metzl signed an open letter in early March calling for a new, more transparent investigation of Wuhan with less interference from the Chinese government, on Tuesday added his own analysis that the few “undisputed facts” in the W.H.O. report support the laboratory origin theory more than they disprove it.
“Despite an intense search, neither the Covid virus, nor any close relative, has yet been found in nature, unlike prior natural zoonoses. The closest viral relative is from the laboratories of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, near the epicenter of the first cases,” Quay noted, hitting on one of the most curious details of the W.H.O. report: the shortage of hard evidence for the purportedly most likely theory of animals acquiring the coronavirus in nature and passing it along to humans.
“The virus was highly adapted for infection of people from the start, unlike prior natural zoonoses. Growing viruses in humanized mice is a common technique to hone their lethal abilities,” Quay additionally noted, addressing how the human pandemic erupted in Wuhan with astounding speed but seems to have left the animal kingdom completely untouched.