Beijing, China — China on Friday rebuffed WHO accusations that it failed to share raw data needed for an investigation into COVID-19’s origins, insisting experts were given adequate access when they visited the country this year.
The WHO is facing intensifying pressure for a new, in-depth investigation into the pandemic’s origins after the UN agency sent a team of independent, international experts to China’s Wuhan in January — more than a year after COVID-19 first surfaced there.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters Thursday that one of the main challenges during the first phase of the investigation was that “the raw data was not shared,” and urged China to “be transparent, to be open and cooperate” on a second phase of the investigation.
But China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian insisted the country had allowed experts “to see the original data that needed special attention,” although “some information involves personal privacy and cannot be copied and taken out of the country.”
Zhao also dismissed Tedros’ claims that “there was a premature push” to rule out the theory that the virus could have leaked from a virology lab in the central Chinese city.
The expert team that had visited China “agreed that the hypothesis that a lab leak led to the outbreak is extremely unlikely,” he said, warning that “this issue should not be politicized.”
Originally derided as a right-wing conspiracy theory — and vehemently rejected by Beijing — the idea that COVID-19 may have emerged from a lab leak has been gaining increasing momentum, particularly in the United States.
China has consistently blasted any suggestion that the lab leak could have been possible as politically motivated and unscientific.
But Tedros emphasized on Thursday that more investigation was needed before the hypothesis could be definitively ruled out.