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WHO to Shelve Report on COVID Origins after Calls for Greater Transparency

Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus arrive at Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, February 3, 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

The World Health Organization team that investigated the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, will delay publishing its findings following calls for greater transparency in the probe.

Peter Ben Embarek, a Danish food safety specialist who led the WHO team, told reporters that the agency has scrapped a plan to release a summary report of its findings.

“By definition a summary report does not have all the details,” Ben Embarek said. “So since there [is] so much interest in this report, a summary only would not satisfy the curiosity of the readers.”

The change comes after the U.S. expressed “deep concerns” about China possibly withholding data on the initial outbreak from investigators. Meanwhile, an international group of scientists called on Thursday for a fully independent investigation into all hypotheses concerning the pandemic’s origins, including the possibility that the coronavirus leaked from a lab in Wuhan.

“Based on our analysis…there is as yet no evidence demonstrating a fully natural origin of this virus,” the scientists wrote in an open letter. The group called to investigate whether the pandemic began as a result of a “Lab Acquired Infection (LAI) in one of the laboratories in Wuhan” or “Lab-escape without LAI, for instance via waste handling or animals that escaped or were disposed of inappropriately.”

Wuhan is home to two laboratories that study infectious diseases, the Wuhan Institute of Virology and Wuhan Center for Disease Control. WHO investigators were not permitted access to either of those institutions.

While visiting Wuhan in early February, Ben Embarek said at a press conference that a lab leak was an “extremely unlikely” hypothesis for the origin of the pandemic. However, after leaving China, he said last week that the possibility of a lab accident is “definitely not off the table.”

WHO head Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said in February that “all hypotheses remain open and require further analysis.”

Send a tip to the news team at NR.

Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.

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