The World Health Organization (WHO) is still working to identify the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic, its director-general said on Friday, after a US agency was reported to have assessed that the pandemic was likely caused by a Chinese laboratory leak.
“I have written and spoken to high-level Chinese leaders on several occasions as recently as just a few weeks ago … all hypotheses about the origin of the virus remain on the table,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the US Department of Energy had concluded that the pandemic likely arose from a Chinese laboratory leak, an assessment Beijing denies.
“I want to be very clear that WHO has not abandoned any plans to identify the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Tedros said.
The U.S. Energy Department made its assessment with “low confidence” in a classified intelligence report recently provided to the White House and key members of Congress, the Journal said, citing people who had read the intelligence report.
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Four other US agencies, along with a national intelligence panel, still believe that COVID-19 was likely the result of natural transmission, while two are unsure, the Journal reported.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19, expressed frustration on Twitter on Thursday that the United States had not shared additional information with the WHO about its reports assessing the origin of the virus.
On Friday, she urged countries, institutions and research groups that may have any information about the origins of the pandemic to share it with the international community.
“We don’t fully have the answers to how this pandemic started and it’s still absolutely critical that we continue to focus on this,” she said.
She said it was crucial to study coronaviruses that circulate in animals and how people come into contact with those animals.
“Our work continues in this area: looking at human studies, looking at animal studies, looking at animal-human interface studies, and also looking at potential breaches in biosecurity and biosecurity of any of the labs that worked on the coronavirus, particularly where the first cases were detected in Wuhan, China or elsewhere, she said.
— Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Geneva, Bhanvi Satija and Sriparna Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne
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