Amid premature and incomplete reports from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) investigative team which has just concluded its work in China to discover the origins of SARS-CoV-2, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) calls for the investigation to continue and for the team to release a detailed report and hold a legitimate press conference after leaving China.
Citing China’s questionable track record on transparency, the US State Department spokesperson said yesterday the US government will not rush to conclusions on the outcome of the investigation and will instead wait to review the underlying data and the full investigative report. ”We will work with our partners and also draw on information collected and analyzed by our own intelligence community to evaluate the report once we’ve received it as well as the data from the WHO evaluation,” said the department spokesperson Ned Price.
After being hampered by delays, WHO researchers were finally able to begin their work on Jan. 29 (more than a full year after the alarm was first raised) in Wuhan, China – the reported epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the team’s hasty and confusing announcement yesterday of no concrete findings, an adamant dismissal of a potential laboratory incident and lending credence to China’s “frozen food” hypothesis run counter to standards of scientific impartiality.
“This was supposed to be an unbiased investigation, something the world needs and deserves, yet we’ve seen no indication of impartiality or transparency—quite the opposite, unfortunately,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “It’s completely inappropriate for WHO scientists to prematurely report any findings, let alone while they remain in China, and without journalists at the press conference being able to ask them questions. This investigation must be continued and by an independent team that is not bound by the constraints of a host government that has erred on the side of saving face.”
Efforts to ascertain critical information on SARS-CoV-2’s origins in Wuhan have been shrouded in secrecy throughout the pandemic. Speaking at yesterday’s press conference, Professor Liang Wannian, head of the expert COVID-19 panel at China’s National Health Commission, continued China’s dismissive rhetoric by stating that the Chinese side of the investigation was complete, and added, “the global origin tracing work will therefore not be bound to any location.”
“At the earliest opportunity after leaving China, the investigative team must release a detailed report and hold a press conference where they take questions from journalists, as well as from other virologists who have expressed skepticism on the findings,” added Weinstein. “We also encourage the team to be explicit in explaining limitations of the investigation and to highlight the obstacles they faced in conducting this investigation inside China.”
In addition to the possibility SARS-CoV-2 escaped containment as a result of an accident at the Wuhan lab, an alternative hypothesis is its zoonotic spread from bats to humans through an intermediate animal host. Ultimately, given the devastation the virus has caused, finding as much accurate information about its spread at the onset is essential to preventing an outbreak of this magnitude from happening again.