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The World Health Organization (WHO) in a report released this month acknowledged there are crucial information gaps hindering the agency’s investigation into the origins of COVID-19, leaving open the possibility the virus could have escaped from a lab.
The WHO’s Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) compiled the report — its first since the group was formed in October 2021 to investigate the origins of COVID-19 and future pandemics.
The group consists of 27 scientists from more than two dozen nations, including the U.S. and China.
“The SAGO has reviewed available findings to date and notes that there are key pieces of data that are not yet available for a complete understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic began,” the report states.
Those key pieces of data include:
- The source of SARS-CoV-2 and its introduction into the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, China.
- Information about environmental samples collected from specific stalls and drains at the market in January 2020, that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.
- Follow-up studies to identify possible animal sources from which the environmental contamination could have originated.
- Detailed mapping of upmarket trade of wild and domestic animals sold in Wuhan City and Hubei Province.
- Clinical history and seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in humans and animals from the source farms of animals sold at Wuhan markets.
- Further verification analyses of human samples collected through national surveillance programs, including influenza and other respiratory samples, during the months prior to December 2019, in China and worldwide.
- Genetic studies of coronaviruses in wildlife species in Asia and the rest of the world.
“The SAGO will remain open to any and all scientific evidence that becomes available in the future to allow for comprehensive testing of all reasonable hypotheses,” the report states.
Emily Kopp, a reporter at U.S. Right to Know, said the WHO has made a “180” turn on its position regarding the origins of the COVID-19 virus.
On a Tuesday appearance on The Hill’s “Rising,” Kopp said:
“The reason for the 180 [turn] is … I think, a lot of circumstantial evidence has surfaced since the WHO’s first report, and we also have gotten some new information on just how shallow and politically compromised that first February 2021 report was.”
Kopp called it “refreshing” that SAGO, which formed following that first report, pulls experts from 26 countries and from fields other than virology. She believes this report provides the most balanced view of the evidence so far.
She told the “Rising” hosts that Peter Ben Embarek — WHO program manager and leader of the mission that produced the 2021 report — once said Chinese authorities presented his team the choice to either not mention the lab-leak hypothesis at all — or to say it was an extremely unlikely possibility.
Embarek has since distanced himself from this claim, saying he was mistranslated, said Kopp.
Jean-Claude Manuguerra, co-director of the course of systematic virology at Institut Pasteur and a SAGO co-chair, said some scientists might be “allergic” to the idea of investigating the lab-leak theory, but said they needed to be “open-minded” enough to examine it, the Associated Press reported.
In March, U.S. Right to Know obtained a 2020 memo revealing U.S. State Department officials considered a lab accident to be the “most likely” cause of the COVID-19 pandemic and were concerned international virologists might help with a cover-up.
Watch the “Rising” segment here: