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WHO boss calls for an investigation into the hypothesis of a virus leak from a laboratory in China

The WHO boss on Tuesday called for a new investigation into the hypothesis of a virus leak from a laboratory in China to explain the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic, and criticized the insufficient sharing of data by the Chinese during the mission of international experts this winter. Experts missioned from January 14 to February 9 in China, where the first cases of the disease appeared in December 2019, had nevertheless estimated that the hypothesis of a laboratory leak was the least likely.

But “this requires further investigation, probably with new missions with specialized experts that I am ready to deploy”, assured the boss of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, during the briefing to the member countries of the World Organization Health on the report officially released Tuesday.

The hypothesis of a laboratory incident described as “extremely improbable”

He also stressed that the international experts “had expressed their difficulties in accessing the raw data” during their stay in China. A rare public criticism of how Beijing handled this joint investigation. According to the elements of the report which AFP obtained a copy on Monday, its authors judge the transmission of the virus to humans by an intermediate animal “probable to very probable”, while the hypothesis of a laboratory incident is at otherwise described as “extremely unlikely”.

The theory of animal transmission

The study favors the generally accepted theory of the natural transmission of the virus from a reservoir animal (probably the bat) to humans, through another animal not yet identified. Among the suspects are the domestic cat, the rabbit or the mink, or the pangolin or the badger-ferret. However, the direct transmission of the virus via the reservoir animal is considered “possible to probable” by experts. They also do not rule out the hypothesis of transmission by frozen meat – a path favored by Beijing -, deeming this scenario “possible”.

The report recommends continuing studies on the basis of these three hypotheses, but however brushes aside the possibility of transmission to humans during a laboratory accident. The hypothesis of a laboratory leak has been strongly defended by the US administration under President Donald Trump. China has always fiercely denied this possibility.

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