The United Nations World Health Organization is putting together a new team of laboratory safety and biosecurity scientists, geneticists and animal disease experts to research the origins of the epidemic that has killed more than 4.7 million people.
Possibilities the new team has been tasked with examining include whether the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 leaked from the lab, according to WHO officials, a hypothesis that has particularly infuriated China.
This new effort comes months after the previous investigation supervised by the World Health Organization, in which a specialized team of scientists visited the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the first outbreaks of the epidemic were at the end of 2020.
A WHO spokesperson said that “the priority for the new team should be data and country access identified in the first reports.”
The Chinese government has refused to say whether it will allow a new team into the country. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that China had “fully cooperated” with the previous investigation.
In the final report of the previous investigation, the team said that data provided by Chinese scientists during the mission was insufficient to answer critical questions about when, where and how the virus began to spread.
The previous team of scientists concluded that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus had leaked from the laboratory of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. But the Director-General of the World Health Organization said that the hypothesis requires further scrutiny.
The Wall Street Journal reported that a task force tasked with investigating the origins of the emerging coronavirus has been dissolved due to a potential conflict of interest.
Washington and its allies are urging the World Health Organization to press ahead with the investigation following a US intelligence agencies report that was delivered to President Joe Biden in August and did not reach any final conclusion, in part due to a lack of data from Beijing.
According to the American newspaper, Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, pressured the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, publicly and privately, to renew the investigation, which is likely to include globally at least one American on the team assigned to this task.
In contrast, China is resisting any investigation into the origins of the epidemic that has begun to spread on its soil, arguing that any new investigation should focus on other countries, including the United States.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is seeking a second term in office, and US support is seen as crucial to the organization’s survival.
The new effort by the World Health Organization to investigate the origins of the pandemic comes as the world body increasingly aligns with some of Washington’s key priorities since the Biden administration reversed President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from it.