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The US and 13 other countries raise concern over WHO report on COVID origin

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14 countries including the US, Japan and UK have indicated that their concerns are based on “delay” in the publication of the report and the impossibility of “access to original data and samples”

The U.S. and thirteen other countries have issued a joint statement “to express their concerns” after the publication on Tuesday of the report on the mission of the World Health Organization (WHO) in China to discover the origin of SARS-CoV -2.

 The document calls for a “transparent assessment” on the origins of the virus, but Australia, Canada, the United States, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, South Korea, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom have stated that they “remain firm in their commitment to the WHO” but have demanded “a transparent and independent assessment, free from interference and undue influence, of the origins of the covid-19 pandemic”.

Likewise, these countries have indicated that their concerns are based on “the significant delay” in the publication of the report and the impossibility of “access to original and complete data and samples.” 

“Scientific missions such as these should be able to carry out their work under conditions that produce independent and objective recommendations and findings,” continues the statement, published by the US State Department.

The objective of this communiqué is, according to these countries, “to open the way towards a timely and transparent solution”.

“Going forward, WHO and all Member States renew their commitment to access, transparency, and timeliness.”

The WHO published on Tuesday its report on the mission in China to discover the origins of SARS-CoV-2 and, according to its conclusions, the most likely scenario is that the transmission of the virus from bats to humans occurred through a third animal while calling the theory that it escaped from a laboratory as “extremely unlikely.”

China has been accused of interfering in the making of this report, however, Peter Ben Embarek, WHO Food Safety and Animal Diseases specialist and chair of the investigation team in Wuhan, China, on the origins of the coronavirus, has denied that Beijing has pressured them to remove any aspect of its final report.

WHO denies pressure from China

Peter Ben Embarek, specialist in Food Safety and Animal Diseases at the World Health Organization (WHO) and president of the investigation team in Wuhan (China) on the origins of the coronavirus, has denied that the Chinese government has pressured them. 

Embarek has admitted that “everyone accepted that there was a lot of attention, a lot of pressure on all this work“, because “the whole world was watching”. Thus, he acknowledged that “of course there was political pressure from everywhere, also outside China.” “But I think we were able to create a space for science, plenty of space for the two groups of scientists to work together. We had nothing to hide. So there was no problem, working in an open environment. I am very proud of the report,” the expert has riveted.

In this regard, Dr. Dominic Dwyer, a member of the WHO team, has urged to remember that the first days of the pandemic were “difficult” for the inhabitants of Wuhan. “I think it’s worth remembering that this outbreak was extremely difficult for people and the medical system and the community to handle and move through at different stages of the initial phase of the pandemic. I think we have to remember how difficult it was for them and how they are operating in a system without any information. We can argue about the data and what I have shown and what it meant. But at the end of the day, there are people at the end of all this data, and I think we have to take that into account,” he added.

On the other hand, however, Embarek has lamented the lack of access to some key data on the first cases of covid detected in Wuhan. 

“Of course, there are areas where we had difficulty accessing raw data, and there are many good reasons for that. In China, as in many other countries, there are restrictions in privacy laws that prohibit sharing of data, including private data, with people outside the company,” he said.

In any case, he applauded that China had generated “an incredible amount of data” and the team had access to “quite a lot of data in many areas.” Thus, the team of scientists who came to Wuhan has recommended that future studies re-examine these aspects. 

“In the cases in which we did not have full access to the general data, this has been put as a recommendation for future studies. So the idea is that, since we did not have time or because we have to give certain authorization before being able to access the data, all this can be done in the second phase of the studies,” Embarek said.

Dr. Peter Daszak, another member of the Wuhan mission team, added that “China has agreed to follow these recommendations.”

Finally, Daszak has been asked for his assessment of the work of the Chinese team. “Observing the volume of data collected, the methods used, the quality of the teams that work in them, and their ability to discuss and interpret the results, I rate them at a very high international scientific level,” he replied.

In conclusion, Embarek has stressed that “it has been an incredible collaborative work”.

“I think the report is a testament to how, even in very intense situations in very difficult political circumstances, countries can come together to focus on the origins of emerging diseases. As you know, viruses do not think about national borders and if we really want to defeat the pandemics, we have to do this work, we have to unite with other countries… so I hope that spirit of goodwill continues,” added Peter Dazsak.

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