Wednesday, March 31, 2021
BEIJING—China on Wednesday called for the World Health Organization to probe whether Covid-19 first emerged in other countries—possibly including from a U.S. military laboratory—in its first public response to a call from the head of the agency for a more robust investigation into whether the virus escaped from a Chinese lab.
A WHO-led team that visited China earlier this year to explore the pandemic’s origins concluded in a report published Tuesday that the coronavirus was “extremely unlikely” to have leaked from a Chinese laboratory and recommended no further study of that possibility.
However, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said shortly before the report’s release that the team’s assessment of a potential lab leak hadn’t been extensive enough and that further investigation was needed, adding he was ready to deploy more specialists to study that possibility.
Asked about Dr. Tedros’s comments at a daily news briefing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying repeatedly referred to the team’s “important conclusion” that a lab leak in Wuhan was extremely unlikely.
“They have basically excluded the possibility of a lab incident” in Wuhan, she said.
She urged the WHO to investigate evidence of early outbreaks in other countries, and suggested that any future laboratory probes should include a U.S. military laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
“As you know relevant study is already done in Wuhan labs, but when will Fort Detrick be open to those experts?” she asked. “If necessary, we hope the U.S. can be as open and candid as China.”
Chinese officials have repeatedly suggested that the pandemic didn’t start in China and that the virus could have originated at Fort Detrick, but haven't presented any evidence. Most scientists say they have seen nothing to corroborate that idea.
So the Director-General of the WHO is calling for more investigation of the lab leak hypothesis. Very interesting. Given China's obvious opposition to this move, one wonders what the Director-General is thinking. What political pressures is he under? What exactly is going on here? I don't think we can expect the PRC to just blurt out the answer to these and related questions. That's typically not how they roll. But if the PRC continues to resist an investigation by the WHO, I'm going to adjust my estimations of the probabilities accordingly. That certainly makes it seem more likely that they are attempting to hide something. If Tedros is responding to scientific opinion broadly conceived, to the much deferred to consensus, perhaps the consensus is changing or has changed. Or perhaps something else is going on. Stay tuned.