World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday that it was “premature” to rule out the possibility that COVID-19 could have emerged from a lab in Wuhan, China, without sufficient evidence.
Walking back on a March WHO report that designated the COVID-19 lab leak theory hypothesis as “extremely unlikely,” Tedros said that based on his experience as a lab technician and immunologist, “lab accidents happen.”
“I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen,” Tedros told reporters. “It’s common.”
In recent months, the theory that the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus was the result of a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) has gained wider coverage as a likely possibility in the legacy media as a growing number of scientists and officials discuss the evidence supporting the hypothesis.
COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP virus, was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
A January U.S. State Department fact sheet raised questions about whether the outbreak could have been the result of a lab accident at WIV. It said the United States has “reason to believe” that several WIV researchers became sick with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses in autumn 2019.
The department also said the lab had been conducting secret military experiments on animals since at least 2017, and that it has a history of conducting gain-of-function research on viruses. Such research involves modifying viruses to have new or enhanced capabilities.
U.S. President Joe Biden on May 26 ordered the intelligence community to produce a report in 90 days on the origins of the virus, saying that intelligence agencies are looking at different theories, including the possibility of a laboratory accident in China.
“Checking what happened, especially in our labs, is important” to determining whether the virus emerged from the WIV, Tedros said.
“We need information, direct information on what the situation of this lab was before and at the start of the pandemic,” the WHO chief said, adding that it’s critical Beijing cooperates on the matter.
“If we get full information, we can exclude that,” he said, referring to the lab leak hypothesis. “In any outbreak, you go and understand the origins. We need to know what happened in order to prevent the next one.”
Tedros said the WHO is calling on the Chinese regime to be more transparent as scientists probe the origins of the virus.
The U.N. agency is “asking actually China to be transparent, open and cooperate, especially on the information, raw data that we asked for at the early days of the pandemic,” he told reporters.
“I think we owe it to the millions who suffered and the millions who died really to understand what happened,” Tedros added.
The Chinese regime has repeatedly cited the “extremely unlikely” phrase from the WHO report to direct a virus probe to other countries. The initial report adhered to Beijing’s preferred stances on the virus’s origin. Beijing has pushed a natural zoonotic hypothesis—that the virus had transmitted to humans from an animal host.
Numerous media outlets have shifted their narratives on the laboratory leak theory as it gains traction.
PolitiFact, for example, on May 24 quietly retracted a September 2020 fact check that labeled a Hong Kong virologist’s claim that the virus originated in a lab as inaccurate and a “debunked conspiracy theory.”
The Washington Post has also quietly walked back its claims regarding the lab leak theory.
Some reporters have said that they disregarded the lab leak theory because Republicans were largely the ones promoting the idea.
Other outlets have also corrected or quietly updated stories, including Vox, while Facebook has stopped banning posts suggesting the virus was man-made.