WHO experts preparing proposal for next studies on Covid-19 origin, UN body says

GENEVA (REUTERS, AFP) – World Health Organisation (WHO) experts are preparing a proposal on the next studies to be carried out into the origins of the virus that causes Covid-19, a spokesman said on Friday (May 28).

The United States on Thursday called for the WHO to carry out a second phase of its investigation into the origins, with independent experts given full access to original data and samples in China. Britain made a similar appeal.

WHO spokesman Fadela Chaib told a UN briefing on Friday that experts would prepare a proposal for WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, but that there was no set timeline.

Earlier this week, WHO top emergency expert Mike Ryan said that talks with member states would continue in the coming weeks.

This is intensifying pressure for a new, more in-depth investigation of the Covid-19 pandemic’s origins.

US President Joe Biden this week ordered the US intelligence community to investigate whether the Covid-19 virus first emerged in China from an animal source or from a laboratory accident.

The European Union and a range of other countries also pressed, during an ongoing meeting of WHO member states, for clarity on the next steps in its efforts to solve the mystery, seen as vital to averting future pandemics.

The WHO finally managed to send a team of independent, international experts to Wuhan in January, more than a year after Covid-19 first surfaced there in late 2019, to help probe the pandemic origins.

But in their report published in late March, the international team and its Chinese counterparts drew no firm conclusions, instead ranking a number of hypotheses according to how likely they believe they were.

The report said the virus jumping from bats to humans via an intermediate animal was the most probable scenario, while a theory involving the virus leaking from a laboratory was “extremely unlikely”.

But the investigation and report have faced criticism for lacking transparency and access, and for not evaluating the lab-leak theory more deeply – a mere 440 words of the report were dedicated to discussing and dismissing it.

Dr Tedros has also continued to insist that all theories remain on the table and further investigation is needed.

The WHO believes that “further studies will be needed in a range of areas, including on the early detection of cases and clusters, and the potential roles of animal markets, transmission via the food chain and the laboratory incident hypothesis,” Ms Chaib said on Friday.

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