The World Health Organization has urged all countries to reveal what they know about the origins of COVID-19, following claims from the United States that the virus likely leaked from a Chinese laboratory, sparking furious denials from Beijing.
Christopher Wray, director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, told Fox News this week that the FBI had determined that the source of the COVID-19 pandemic was “most likely a possible laboratory incident in Wuhan,” the Chinese city that hosts a laboratory for virus research houses and the location of the first COVID infections in late 2019.
“If a country has information about the origin of the pandemic, it is essential that that information is shared with WHO and the international scientific community,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday.
“Not to blame, but to increase our understanding of how this pandemic started so that we can prevent, prepare for and respond to future epidemics and pandemics,” said the WHO chief.
The WHO has not given up efforts to identify the source of the pandemic, he said.
“WHO continues to call on (China) to be transparent in data sharing and to conduct necessary studies and share the results. To that end, I have written and spoken to high-level Chinese leaders several times, even just a few weeks ago.
The WHO chief also said that “all hypotheses about the origin of the virus remain on the table”.
“WHO continues to call on 🇨🇳 to be transparent in data sharing, and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results. To that end, I have written and spoken to high-level Chinese leaders on multiple occasions, as recently as a few weeks ago”-@DrTedros
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) March 3, 2023
Chinese officials have angrily denied the FBI’s claim that their country is the origin of the pandemic, calling it a smear campaign against Beijing.
Wray also told Fox News television that China thwarted efforts to trace the origin of the virus.
“I will just make the comment that the Chinese government… has done its best to try to thwart and obscure the work here, the work that we are doing, the work that our US government and close foreign partners are doing,” Wray said.
Politicizing the search for the origin of the virus made scientific work more difficult and the world more unsafe as a result, Tedros added.
Tedros said it was a moral imperative to find out how the pandemic started for the sake of the millions who lost their lives to COVID-19 and those living with long-term COVID.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, said the organization had contacted the US mission in Geneva for more information about the FBI chief’s claims.
Until now, however, they had no access to the data on which the US reports were based, says Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist.
“It remains vital that that information is shared,” she added to advance scientific studies.
Mao Ning, spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said last week that Beijing had been transparent in its search for the origin of the virus. She countered that the US should look to its own biological laboratories around the world when looking for the source of the virus.
“It is the US that must respond to the world’s questions and concerns about Fort Detrick and its military and biological laboratories around the world,” Mao said.
“By politicizing the issue, the US will fail to discredit China. Instead, it only damages the US’s own credibility.”
As of February 21, there were more than 757 million virus infections and 6.85 million related deaths, according to WHO’s global COVID-19 report. trackers. The WHO also recognizes that the true death toll is much higher.