The World Health Organization’s report on the origins of the coronavirus contradicts U.S. intelligence reports concerning the safety of a laboratory in Wuhan, China, where the pandemic began.
The WHO report released on Tuesday dismissed the hypothesis that the coronavirus leaked from a lab in Wuhan as “extremely unlikely.” Investigators claimed that the three laboratories in the city where coronaviruses were studied “all had high quality biosafety level (BSL3 or 4) facilities that were well-managed,” along with staff monitoring systems that showed “no reporting of COVID-19 compatible respiratory illnesses during the weeks/months prior to December 2019.”
However, the report contradicts U.S. diplomats who expressed concerns about safety levels at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, whose researchers studied bat coronaviruses prior to the pandemic. American diplomats visited the WIV in 2018 and reported their concerns to Washington, D.C., in cables reported by the Washington Post.
“During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, [U.S. officials] noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” one cable read.
As to the report’s claim that no lab workers had been infected with COVID-19, the State Department announced in January that researchers at the lab reported flu-like symptoms in the fall of 2020, weeks before COVID-19 was identified.
WIV researchers have performed “gain-of-function” research on bat coronaviruses, essentially changing features of the pathogen to make it more contagious. Such research has been conducted in laboratories throughout the world, and while some scientists view it as dangerous because of the risk of creating more deadly pathogens, others view the research as necessary in order to gain knowledge of potentially devastating diseases.
Following the onset of the pandemic, U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly concluded that the coronavirus first leaked from a lab. Various current and former U.S. officials are divided on whether the coronavirus escaped from a lab or whether it jumped from animals to humans in nature.
Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head Robert Redfield said on Friday that he believes the coronavirus leaked from a lab. Meanwhile, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who also sits on the board of Pfizer, has argued that a lab leak scenario is “plausible” but not the most likely theory.