The World Health Organization should never have dismissed the theory of the Covid lab leak in favor of the frozen food origin story in Beijing, one of the agency’s top officials claimed today.
Professor Marion Koopmans, a world-renowned virologist, acknowledged that the WHO’s decision was ‘not smart’ and ‘we shouldn’t have done that’.
The respected head of viroscience at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam was one of the twelve tasked with investigating how the pandemic originated, on behalf of the UN agency.
The WHO’s first study in January 2021, in which a group of scientists traveled to Wuhan, concluded that “all hypotheses remain on the table.”
In its March 2021 report, it then ranked the likelihood of four popular theories, considering the natural origin theory the most likely.
The WHO’s first study in January 2021, in which a group of scientists traveled to Wuhan, concluded that “all hypotheses remain on the table.” In its March 2021 report, it ranked the likelihood of four theories, considering the natural origin theory the most likely. But it put the lab leak an “extremely unlikely path” behind the frozen food origin story. The theory that the virus was introduced via ‘cold food chain products’ – pushed by the Chinese government – was instead considered a ‘possible route’ by the UN agency
But it placed the lab leak as an “extremely unlikely path” — behind the frozen food origin story.
The hypothesis that the coronavirus was introduced through “cold food chain products” — pushed by China — was instead considered a “possible route” by the UN agency.
But on a BBC podcast exploring the source of the pandemic, Professor Koopmans said the hypothesis that the virus escaped from a secret laboratory in Wuhan’s ground zero can never be ruled out.
She said Fever: the hunt for the origins of Covidan eight-part BBC Radio 4 series, which ‘wasn’t smart in hindsight’, adding, ‘We shouldn’t have done that.’
Professor Marion Koopmans (photo), head of viroscience at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, was one of twelve who had to investigate how the pandemic came about on behalf of the World Health Organization.
Pressed by the BBC’s former Beijing Correspondent John Sudworth about whether she would now put both the deep-freeze and laboratory scenarios on an equal footing, she admitted ‘neither is out of the question in my mind’.
The lab leak theory, once dismissed as an outright conspiracy, has grown in popularity in the years since the virus first caused a global pandemic.
It revolves around the fact that the virus first emerged miles away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where researchers were known to have been working on coronaviruses found in bats.
Most experts argue that Covid most likely arose naturally and was passed from animals to humans – what is known as zoonosis.
Such theories have largely pointed to the Huanan seafood wholesale market in Wuhan, where numerous species of live animals were kept and sold, as the potential place where such an infection could have occurred.
Many of the first cases in December 2019 and January 2020 had visited the site, which sold live animals.
No concrete evidence has ever been found to support any origin argument, leading experts to fear the truth will never be discovered.
Professor Koopmans told the podcast: ‘Everyone is biased yes. I’m biased towards (the) natural origin (theory) because of everything we’ve seen in the past.
While China insists the virus came from elsewhere, academics, politicians and the media have weighed the possibility that it may have leaked from a high-level biochemistry lab in Wuhan.
‘That is such a well-known risky situation. So call me biased. But it’s also about opportunities. It’s not just about possibilities.’
When asked if including the deep freeze theory in the final report “was an undermining of the mission itself,” she said, “I don’t think so.”
She added: “As a scientist again, looking at the literature and looking at what’s possible, I thought we shouldn’t throw it away either because it was politically pushed.”
But she acknowledged that inclusion of the theory was not meant to suggest that the pandemic actually started outside of China.
“Not necessarily outside, just marketed. Of course, viruses don’t originate in frozen foods,” she said.
“It should be frozen food, for example, from an animal brought into the Wuhan system.”
But under pressure from Mr. Sudworth as to how likely this was, she replied, “I don’t know.”
At the time of publication, the report was criticized for a lack of cooperation from Beijing.
The Chinese government reportedly refused to discuss the lab leak theory unless the final report said no further investigation was needed, and withheld key data and samples from WHO scientists.
Some experts are now saying Covid may have originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Here you can see security personnel standing guard during a WHO visit in 2021
Other theories about the origins of Covid point to Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market as the epicenter of the outbreak. Many of the first cases in December 2019 and January 2020 had visited the site, where live animals were sold
‘Of course it was not free from pressure,’ says Professor Koopmans in the podcast. “The process has gone off track, that’s for sure.”
However, she added, “I know a lot of people want to say it’s because of a cover-up. I know that many actions have been taken from China to control information, to suppress information, but what can I do as a scientist.’
She said, “I’ve been asked ‘why didn’t you demand that the lab journals be opened and the raw results reviewed’. That’s an audit.’
Beijing has been repeatedly accused of covering up, stifling attempts to investigate a laboratory in Wuhan that was experimenting with similar viruses months before a disease emerged in the city that quickly swept the world and killed millions.
But Professor Koopmans is not the first to recently rethink the likelihood of various covid origin theories.
In an earlier episode of Fever, Professor Ian Lipkin, an epidemiologist at Columbia University in New York, told said he sticks to the idea that Covid was not intentionally created in a lab and that a natural origin remained the most likely scenario.
however walthough most lab leak scenarios for Covid origins center on the Wuhan Institute of Virology, he pointed to another lab, the Wuhan Center for Disease Control, just a few hundred meters from Huanan market, which tracked the first Covid cases, as a possible source.
This laboratory was known to be involved in collecting thousands of blood and fecal samples from wild bats, with staff working there not always wearing the recommended level of personal protective equipment.
It was also revealed earlier this month that China’s own “bat woman” Dr. Shi Zhengli, a leading virologist at WIV, at one point feared Covid might have leaked from her secret lab.