World Health Organization inspectors had “very frank” discussions with Chinese scientists about the cause of the pandemic, including theories that leaked from a laboratory, the head of the Wuhan probe told AFP Thursday.
Peter Ben Embarek said in an interview a day after he and his WHO team visited the laboratory.
Although he did not identify any specific theories, Ben Embarek described some of them as irrational and insisted that investigators waste no time chasing the wildest claims.
“The discussions were very open,” said the food safety scientist at the UN Health Department by phone from Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the coronavirus was first discovered in December 2019.
“We have … discussed many of the famous theories, etc., and what was done to explain them,” added Ben Embarak, who was with the WHO Beijing office for two years from 2009.
Since emerging from a 14-day hotel quarantine last week, WHO experts have visited a number of high-profile websites linked to the origin of the pandemic, including a seafood market where people first got sick.
Wednesday’s trip to the Wuhan Institute of Virology was one of the most iconic events on the agenda due to the controversial theory that it was the cause of the pandemic.
Scientists at the laboratory are researching some of the world‘s most dangerous diseases, including bat coronaviruses, which are similar to Covid-19.
At the start of the pandemic, there was speculation that the virus might have accidentally leaked from the Wuhan laboratory, although there was no evidence to support this theory.
Then-US President Donald Trump and his supporters picked up these rumors and reinforced them with conspiracy theories that China deliberately leaked the virus.
No “ghost hunting”
Ben Embarek said discussions in the lab were useful in understanding the staff’s position “regarding many of these statements and allegations that everyone has seen and read about on the news“.
He seemed to reject some of the theories and called much of the speculation “excellent scenarios for good films and series for years to come”.
He also stressed that WHO investigators would “follow science, we follow facts” to reach their conclusions.
“If we chase and hunt ghosts here and there, we will never move anywhere,” he told AFP.
“So that’s also an important step in which we could understand where these stories came from.
“And we can rationally … explain why some of them are completely irrational, why some of them might make sense, and why some of them can or cannot be explained,” he said.
The team visited the institute’s P4 laboratory – Asia’s first maximum safety laboratory equipped to deal with class 4 pathogens such as Ebola.
Ben Embarek said the trip to Wuhan, due to be completed in the next week, would not lead to a definitive conclusion on how the virus jumped from animals to humans.
“We will not find the ultimate full understanding of the origins of this virus, but it will be a good first step,” he said.
“It will be a very robust and clear way of how we can move forward.”
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)