The World Health Organization hasn’t ruled out any hypotheses about the roots of COVID-19, according to the group’s chief, after a fact-finding mission to China rejected speculation that the coronavirus could have leaked from a lab.
All avenues of research remain open, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a briefing Friday. The investigation “has added important information that takes us closer to understanding the origins of the virus,” particularly in the early days of the pandemic.
The comments appeared to pull back on the investigating team’s remarks earlier this week. The lab-leak theory was “extremely unlikely” and required no further study, according to Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO food-safety scientist. The coronavirus most likely jumped to humans through an animal host or frozen wildlife products, he said, and those possibilities should continue to be probed.
The WHO has faced criticism since the outbreak of the pandemic that it’s been too deferential to China. Former President Donald Trump advanced the theory that the virus might have escaped from a high-security virology lab in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus was first detected.
The mission followed months of negotiation with China. Stung by criticism that it initially covered up the extent of the crisis, Chinese state media and officials have promoted the theory that the virus didn’t start in China, but was brought in.
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