China State Media Goes After WHO for Investigating COVID Lab Leak Theory: 'Extremely Irresponsible'

The World Health Organization's (WHO) director general was criticized by a Chinese scientist who accused him of being "extremely irresponsible" for saying in March that the Wuhan "lab leak" theory requires further investigation, the South China Morning Post reported Wednesday.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the WHO's March 30 team report on a Wuhan field visit to investigate the source of COVID-19 raised questions that "need to be addressed by further studies." He said the team encountered difficulties in accessing raw data and added that the report concluded a lab leak was the "least likely hypothesis."

"Tedros' remarks were extremely irresponsible," Chinese state media Hubei Media Group reported, quoting the anonymous Chinese scientist on the WHO's international team investigating the origins of COVID-19, according to the Morning Post.

"As an authoritative body in the field of global public health, the WHO should have shown more respect for science, held science in awe and taken the lead in maintaining the authority of the report. However, director general Tedros disregarded the experts' painstaking research and scientific consensus, which should not be the WHO's position."

The Chinese scientist reportedly alleged that Tedros' statements on the WHO's report were being used by "forces with ulterior motives."

On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that "there is no such thing as difficulty in obtaining raw data," and "all parties should respect science and the opinions and conclusions of scientists."

"This is where the WHO, in particular, should play a leading role," Wang added.

Tedros said the report presented a "comprehensive view of available data," but in order to understand the earliest cases of COVID-19 infections, scientific understanding would benefit from "full access to data," including access to data on biological samples from at least September 2019.

He said he welcomed recommendations for further studies "to understand the earliest human cases and clusters, to trace the animals sold at markets in and around Wuhan, and to better understand the range of potential animal hosts and intermediaries."

Tedros noted that the role of animal markets in Wuhan was still unclear and confirmed that there was "widespread contamination with SARS-CoV-2 in the Huanan market in Wuhan," according to the team that led the report. The source of the contamination was not able to be determined.

The WHO's team visited multiple Wuhan laboratories to assess the possibility of a virus lab leak that entered human populations, an assessment Tedros added was not extensive enough and said he is ready to deploy "additional missions involving specialist experts," to further investigate.

"As far as WHO is concerned, all hypotheses remain on the table," Tedros said, noting that COVID-19's source is still undetermined.

The unnamed Chinese scientist said that his statements might jeopardize tracing the origins of COVID-19 in the future, according to the Morning Post.

"If the next phase of global virus origin tracing is thus stalled because of this, then the WHO should also be held responsible," the scientist said.

Newsweek reached out to the WHO for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

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WHO Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland
The World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on August 17, 2020. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images