WHO Report on COVID-19 Origins Likely Pushed Back a Week

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
March 17, 2021Updated: March 17, 2021

A highly anticipated report from the World Health Organization (WHO) on the origins of COVID-19 based on its findings in Wuhan, China, is “likely” to be delayed until next week, a spokesman for the health agency said Tuesday.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a United Nations briefing that the final report has been pushed back because it was “simply not ready,” and the team of experts that traveled to China to examine the origins of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, “want to get it right.”

“What we hear from the technical experts—from the mission members—is that the report most likely now will come out next week,” Lindmeier said.

In early March, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic indicated that the final report of the WHO-led mission’s findings was expected “in [the] coming weeks.” WHO expert Peter Ben Embarek separately said that the agency planned to release the report in the week of March 15.

The report is expected to examine a number of theories about the origins of the virus.

The CCP virus first surfaced in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. A lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where scientists have conducted extensive research on bat coronaviruses, has long been speculated to be the source of the outbreak, possibly due to an accidental leak.

That theory was declared “extremely unlikely” by Embarek on Feb. 8, following a two-week fact-finding mission in Wuhan. However, within days, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appeared to walk back the statement, saying that “all hypotheses remain open and require further study.”

A fact sheet released by the U.S. State Department in January stated that it “had reason to believe” several researchers at the institute fell ill with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses in autumn 2019. A senior researcher at the institute said in July 2020 there was “zero infection” among lab staff and students.

Lindmeier said Tuesday that the report is still being finalized.

“The experts are drawing it up together, and … the more people involved, the more people will have to have a say in it,” he said. “They want to get it right. That is the important part.”

Frank Fang contributed to this report.