Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General, stated that it was difficult for him to access raw data. This is a departure from his usual respect for powerful member countries. He also said that the international team who traveled to China earlier in the year to examine the source of COVID-19 had difficulty getting access to the data. In Wuhan, China, the first human cases were discovered.
Tedros stated to reporters that the U.N.'s Geneva-based health agency is asking China to "be transparent, open, and cooperate" especially with regard to the raw data we requested in the early days.
He stated that there was a premature push to rule out the possibility that the virus may have escaped from a Chinese government laboratory in Wuhan. This undermined WHO's March report which said that a laboratory leak was unlikely.
Tedros stated, "I used to be a lab technician, but I am now an immunologist and have worked in the laboratory, and it happens." It's quite common.
The idea that the pandemic began in a laboratory and possibly involved an engineered virus has gained momentum in recent months. President Joe Biden ordered a review of U.S intelligence in May to evaluate the possibility.
China has reacted aggressively to the claims that attempts to link COVID-19's origins to a laboratory were political motivated, suggesting that the virus may have originated elsewhere. China stated that future searches for COVID-19's origins must continue in other countries at the WHO's annual meeting in spring.
Scientists believe that coronavirus originated from bats. However, the route it traveled to humans - through an intermediary animal or some other means - is still unknown. It can take decades to find the source of an animal virus such as Ebola or SARS.
Tedros stated that it was important to "check what happened, especially at our labs" in order to determine if there were any laboratory connections.
The WHO chief stated that "we need information, direct information about what the situation in this laboratory was prior to and during the outbreak of the pandemic," adding that China's cooperation was crucial. "If we have all the information we need, we can eliminate (the lab connection).
Tedros repeatedly praised China throughout the pandemic for its speedy response and transparency, despite WHO senior officials complaining about Chinese obfuscation.
The Associated Press reported last year that WHO was frustrated at the lack of information from China during the initial stages of the coronavirus' spreading. It also revealed that China was stepping up its investigation into the origins of the pandemic.
Many public health experts also advocated for an independent examination on COVID-19's history, arguing that WHO lacks the political power to do such an analysis and that the U.N. agency failed to obtain critical information from China after more than one year.
All WHO-led missions to China require government approval. Experts must also be allowed to visit field sites, and any trip reports must be approved by the government. Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO's chief for emergencies, has stated that the agency operates by consensus and cannot force countries to cooperate.
Tedros' call for transparency was repeated by Jens Spahn (German Health Minister), who asked Chinese officials to allow an investigation into the source of the virus.
Spahn stated that "we do appreciate the cooperation from the Chinese government so far in the first mission." Spahn stated, "But that's still not enough."