Biden administration raises serious concerns over WHO’s preliminary findings on origin of COVID-19 in China

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Updated: February 28, 2021

The Biden administration on Saturday raised serious concerns over early conclusions by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the origin of the coronavirus.

Biden’s concerns are coming only days after the WHO concluded that the coronavirus likely jumped from an animal to a person rather than a laboratory, a position often promoted by China.

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President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden wave as they ride in the Presidential limousine Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, en route to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden wave as they ride in the Presidential limousine Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, en route to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

In a statement by U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, the Biden administration said the WHO’s reports should have been independent, an insinuation that the conclusions over the origin of the virus did not follow a satisfactory process.

“We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them,” Sullivan said in a statement from Washington D.C.

He wrote: “The mission of the World Health Organization (WHO) has never been more important, and we have deep respect for its experts and the work they are doing every day to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and advance global health and health security. That is why President Biden rejected and reversed the Trump Administration’s decision to disengage from the WHO. But re-engaging the WHO also means holding it to the highest standards.  And at this critical moment, protecting the WHO’s credibility is a paramount priority.

“We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them.

“It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government. To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak. Going forward, all countries, including China, should participate in a transparent and robust process for preventing and responding to health emergencies — so that the world learns as much as possible as soon as possible.”

President Xi Jinping of China: Photo - Michel Temer
President Xi Jinping of China: Photo – Michel Temer

The World Health Organization investigative team said at a news conference in China on Tuesday that the virus that causes COVID-19 most likely jumped from animals to humans, and not from a laboratory, a theory promoted by China.

The leader of the WHO team said it was also probable that the virus may have been transmitted to humans through frozen food, another theory often promoted by China.

However, the WHO team acknowledged that the most likely scenario was that the virus was transmitted naturally from an animal into humans.

That transmission may have come from a bat to a small mammal that may have infected a person, and then other persons.

The participants at the press briefing on Tuesday included Mr Mi Feng, National Health Commission of China, Spokesperson, Dr Liang Wannian, Chinese team lead and Executive Vice Dean of school of public health at Tsinghua, Dr Peter Ben Embarek, WHO International Team Lead, and Professor Marion Koopmans, member of the WHO international team and Head, Department of Viroscience, University of Rotterdam.

A Danish food-safety expert who spoke on behalf of the WHO, Peter Ben Embarek, asked “Did we change dramatically the picture we had beforehand?” and he responded, “I don’t think so.””Did we improve our understanding? Did we add details to that picture? Absolutely.”

Scientists from the World Health Organization were only allowed in China recently, a year after the coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan.

With more than 2 million people dead worldwide, China held what it labeled a “WHO-China Joint Study Press Conference” at Hilton Optics Valley Hotel, Wuhan on Tuesday.

However, many questions remained unanswered. For instance, whether there was any definitive link between a coronavirus study that was being carried out on bats at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the pandemic that eventually shut down the world and killed millions of people. Also, why it took so long for the Chinese authorities to allow independent scientists in was not fully addressed.

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba covers the White House, the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Simon can be reached on simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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