An international group of scientists is calling for a new investigation into the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19 — arguing that the current probe led by the World Health Organization is too restricted by the Chinese government to be credible.
The WHO-led team — which traveled to Wuhan earlier this year — had “insufficient access” during the investigation, the group said in an open letter obtained by the Wall Street Journal Thursday.
“We wish to raise public awareness of the fact that half of the joint team convened under that process is made of Chinese citizens whose scientific independence may be limited, that international members of the joint team had to rely on information the Chinese authorities chose to share with them, and that any joint team report must be approved by both the Chinese and international members of the joint team,” the letter reads.
The letter — signed by virologists, biologists and public health experts from countries ranging from France to India — goes on to declare that the WHO team didn’t have the “independence” needed to properly investigate.
“We have therefore reached the conclusion that the joint team did not have the mandate, the independence, or the necessary accesses to carry out a full and unrestricted investigation into all the relevant SARS-CoV-2 origin hypotheses — whether natural spillover or laboratory/research-related incident,” the letter states.
Meanwhile, the WHO-led team was supposed to have released an interim report by now into it own findings — but has scrapped that plan and will instead just release the full report, the Wall Street Journal revealed.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Feb. 12 that the team would release the interim report summarizing its mission. The WHO team now plans to publish the summary when it releases the full, final report in the “coming weeks, ” according a WHO spokesman.
“By definition a summary report does not have all the details,” Dr. Ben Embarek, a food-safety scientist who led the team, told the paper. “So since there [is] so much interest in this report, a summary only would not satisfy the curiosity of the readers.”
Earlier this month, a scientist on the WHO-led team said the virus likely started in China and “most likely” came from bats — despite the WHO’s official findings remaining inconclusive.
The news comes as the US lobbies for more transparency in the investigation, with officials saying the Wuhan mission report must be scrutinized.
Meanwhile, China is is pressing for similar WHO-led missions to other countries, including the US, to investigate whether COVID-19 could have originated in frozen food that was shipped to Wuhan, according to the Journal.