The highly anticipated and deeply controversial 120-page report from the World Health Organization’s joint investigation with Chinese officials into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic was made public on Tuesday morning ahead of a press conference by the WHO’s investigative team.
The joint international team was composed of 17 Chinese government-approved members and 17 international health experts selected under the auspices of the WHO.
Officials from both the Trump and Biden administrations have said that the Chinese government worked for over a year to thwart an independent investigation into the origins of the virus, which has killed 2.79 million people worldwide, and both administrations cast doubt on the manner in which the WHO-China study was conducted in early 2021.
The report said it looked at four specific scenarios: direct transmission from animals to humans, transmission to humans through an intermediate animal host, an introduction through the frozen food chain, or an accidental lab escape. It concluded that animal to animal to human transmission was the most likely, while a Wuhan lab leak was extremely unlikely.
Trump administration officials criticized the credibility of the WHO-China investigation from the start, arguing that it was deeply compromised due to conflicts of interest among team members, government influence over the inquiry, a lack of independence and transparency, and a denial of access to the necessary data. The Chinese government appears to have worked to cover up the infectiousness and severity of the coronavirus pandemic in late 2019 and early 2020, silencing doctors and whistleblowers, jailing journalists, and failing to share accurate and transparent data with the WHO, the United States, and the rest of the world.
State Department cables from 2018 had warned about biosafety concerns at the Wuhan lab, and a declassified State Department fact sheet released at the end of the Trump administration pointed to illnesses among Wuhan lab workers prior to the broader COVID-19 outbreak in 2019, similar coronaviruses being studied at the lab, and gain of function research and secretive Chinese military experiments there.
Biden administration officials have also cast doubt on the WHO-China study, and the White House announced that a team of experts would review the report.
The WHO-China groups initially met online, and a 28-day joint study was carried out in Wuhan, China, from Jan. 14 through Feb. 10. During the first two weeks there, the WHO team was kept in quarantine, and in the second two weeks, in-person meetings with Chinese counterparts were conducted, and on-site visits organized by the Chinese government were carried out, with members of China’s Foreign Ministry in the room.
The Chinese government denies that the coronavirus originated in a Wuhan lab and has also cast doubt on the idea that it originated in China, with its diplomats pushing conspiracy theories about the U.S. military.
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