WHO chief: ‘Premature’ to rule out COVID-19 lab leak theory

The World Health Organization (WHO) chief said on Thursday that there was a “premature push” to rule out the COVID-19 lab leak theory without enough evidence.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged to reporters during a briefing that the theory that COVID-19 originated from a lab is possible, in remarks that strayed from the WHO’s controversial report designating the hypothesis as “extremely unlikely.”

Tedros cited his experience as a lab technician and immunologist, saying that “lab accidents happen” and “it’s common,” so “checking what happened, especially in our labs,” is important to deducing what sparked the pandemic.

“If we get full information, we can exclude that,” he said, referring to the theory.

Focus on China: He called for China and other member states to be transparent and cooperate with scientists and officials trying to determine how the pandemic started, including through providing raw data.

“I hope there will be better cooperation and we have the continued engagement with China and also with member states, and there will be better cooperation to getting to the bottom of what happened.”

Taking a turn: The WHO officials’ comments took a turn from the organization’s March report, conducted along with Chinese scientists, that said it was “a likely to very likely pathway” that the virus began in an animal before spreading to humans. Tedros has acknowledged the perceived shortcomings of the report and said he wants further investigation. He has also called for more transparency from China. But the statement Thursday would seem to undermine the March report even further.