WHO report says COVID came from animal-to-human transmission, but Americans question its transparency

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Photo via The Fool's Age of Wandering/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A forthcoming report from the World Health Organization, attempting to answer the question, “Where did COVID-19 come from?” is theorizing that the COVID-19 pandemic initiated with animal-to-human transmission of the virus. However, American officials are challenging the content of the report even before it officially comes out. 

According to the Associated Press, “A joint World Health Organization-China study on the origins of COVID-19 says that transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario,” with the AP-obtained report clarifying the theorized-about lab leak is an “extremely unlikely” source. 

As the March 29 AP story noted, “The findings offer little new insight into how the virus first emerged and leave many questions unanswered, though that was as expected. But the report does provide more detail on the reasoning behind the researchers’ conclusions. The team proposed further research in every area except the lab leak hypothesis.” 

The report noted that “bats are known to carry coronaviruses and, in fact, the closest relative of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in bats.” But it also noted that “the evolutionary distance between these bat viruses and COVID-19 is estimated to be several decades, suggesting a missing link.” 

The report also observed that “highly similar viruses have been found in pangolins, which are another kind of mammal, but scientists have yet to identify the same coronavirus in animals that has been infecting humans.” 

The AP article also noted sensitivity around the report from Chinese officials, who do not want to be tagged with blame for the current pandemic. However, it’s that very issue leading some American officials to question the report even before it’s released to the public. 

The U.S. has “real concerns about the methodology and the process” of the report, including speculation that the Chinese government “apparently helped to write it,” according to a Bloomberg report quoting Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a March 28 CNN interview.

The Washington Post added to the scrutiny of the forthcoming report, noting in its article previewing it, “Questions about Chinese interference will be hard to shake. The terms of reference set out by WHO member states called for a collaboration between Chinese and foreign scientists, not an independent investigation or audit. Much of the data was collected by Chinese scientists ahead of the visit and then analyzed by the joint team.” 

That article noted that last month, Jake Sullivan, national security adviser to President Biden, wrote, “It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government. To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak.” 

The Washington Post article also noted that in the report, the team encourages examining “the possible path of transmission between animals and humans and on transmission through frozen food—a once-fringe theory favored by Chinese government scientists.” 

It also reportedly looks at the role of wet markets in Wuhan, China, noting, “The market linked to early cases was not necessarily the source of the virus, as some once believed, but may have been the site of an early outbreak or an ‘amplification event,’” adding that the report “does not draw a firm conclusion and calls for additional research on the role of this and other markets.” 

Top American infectious diseases specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci didn’t want to jump to conclusions about the report’s content. 

“What I would like to do is first see the report,” he said in a March 28 interview with Bloomberg. “You’re getting a lot of conjecture around about what they did and what they were allowed to do or not.”

“If, in fact, obviously, there was a lot of restrictions on the ability of the people who went there to really take a look,” he added, “then I’m going to have some considerable concern about that.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, speaking for the Biden Administration, expressed concern about the report’s transparency and use of data.

“We’ll have to take a look at it and make sure we have access to the underlying information,” Psaki said, reiterating the need for an international investigation into the pandemic and “the lack of transparency from the Chinese.”

Sources: Associated Press, Bloomberg, Washington Post

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