A WHO scientist has admitted the Covid lab leak theory has NOT been ruled out as the team comes under fire over its “whitewash” investigation in China.
Professor John Watson, who was part of the WHO team that travelled to Wuhan, stated the leak hypothesis remains on the table and confessed the mission may not have had the proper expertise to fully investigate the lab.
WIV is known to have been experimenting with bat coronaviruses and creating infectious hybrid strains for tests – and is located just a stone’s throw from where the virus first emerged in December, 2019.
The WHO team visited the lab as part of their mission – which was tightly controlled and stage managed by China.
“That’s a hypothesis that remains on the table and could certainly have further work done on it,” Prof Watson told Marr.
“If further work of that kind was to be done, you would certainly have to bring in additional kinds of expertise around labs that do that kind of work and the safety processes in labs like that in order to look at that aspect of it in more detail.”
The expert said the team quizzed the WIV scientists of safety aspects of the lab – but he admitted he was reliant on the expertise of his colleagues in this part of the probe.
Prof Watson said: “We were able to go to the lab, we were shown around the lab, and we were then given the opportunity to talk to the scientists in the lab.
“There was no bar, there was no holding back on the questions. We were very open about the issue that it was being suggested there was the possibility of a leak.”
World Health Organisation investigators and their Chinese counterparts appeared to offer more questions than answers when they revealed their findings in a three hour press conference last week.
We’ll be pushing for it to have full access, get all the data it needs to be able to answer the questions that I think most people want to hear answered around the outbreak
The joint event offered many explanations and theories on the origins of the virus – but the only one seemingly dismissed was the lab leak.
Lead investigator Dr Peter Ben Embarek said the theory would not be recommended for “future studies” and was considered “extremely unlikely”.
China has always aggressively denied the lab leak theory which was heavily pushed by former US President Donald Trump and his administration.
Further admissions by WHO that the virus may have come from outside China and its apparent backing of the Communist Party’s theory that the virus may have come from “frozen food” led to allegations the probe was a “whitewash”.
Asked if he was sure the virus emerged in China, Prof Watson, who previously served as England’s deputy chief medical officer until 2017, said “no”.
He said: “I think that there are all sorts of reasons to do with the way it did start in the outbreak in Wuhan and the various bits of information about the way in which these viruses live in different animal reservoirs, that suggest that China is a very, very possible source for the outbreak, but by no means necessarily the place where the leap from animals to humans took place.
“And I think we need to ensure that we are looking beyond the borders of China, as well as within China.”
It comes after just days ago another WHO investigator – Professor Dominic Dwyer – pointed the finger at China as he said the evidence for it starting somewhere else is “very limited”.
He also revealed that the Communist Party refused to hand over raw data that was requested by the mission.
The organisation itself is already facing questions about how it handled the early days of the pandemic, being accused by the US of being “China-centric”.
The White House said it has “deep concerns” that the Chinese government may have interfered with WHO’s investigation into the origins of Covid.
UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab said Downing Street shared “concerns” that scientists would “get full co-operation and they get the answers they need”.
Asked if the WHO team was given access to the raw data about the first 174 people who contracted coronavirus in China, Prof Watson said they saw a “great deal” of information about the cases.
However, he added that the team was only given access to a “certain amount” of the raw data.
Prof Watson said: “We didn’t see all of that and we didn’t see the original questionnaires that were used, but apart from the fact that, of course, they would have been in Chinese, one has to think about what one would have seen if one had gone to any other country in the world.”
He said the team’s visit was not a “one-off” and that the WHO sees it as “the start of a process that’s going to take really quite a while”.
Foreign Secretary Mr Raab told the Andrew Marr Show that the UK Government would be “pushing” for China to provide full access to its data.
He said: “We’ll be pushing for it to have full access, get all the data it needs to be able to answer the questions that I think most people want to hear answered around the outbreak, the causes.
“And that’s important, not for geopolitical point-scoring or anything like that, but so we can learn the lessons and prevent it ever happening again.”
What do we know about the Wuhan Institure of Virology?
THE WUHAN Institute of Virology is the highest security lab of its kind in all of China – and can be found right at the heart of the origins of the global pandemic.
Various theories have been swirling about the lab, which is headed up by Chinese scientist Dr Shi Zhengli, known as “Bat Woman”.
Most scientists do not believe the virus leaked from the lab, and the lab itself has categorically denied the claims.
The lab specialised in bat-borne viruses and had been carrying out experiences on them since 2015.
Airlocks, full body suits, and chemical showers are required before entering and leaving the lab – the first in China to be accredited with biosafety level 4 (BSL-4).
BSL-4 labs are the only places in the world where scientists can study diseases that have no cure.
Scientists from the lab even tested mysterious virus which killed three miners 1,000 miles away in Yunnan province back in 2012.
It has been suggested this fatal mystery bug may have been the true origin of Covid-19.
Experts at the lab also engineered a new type of hybrid ‘super-virus’ that can infect humans in 2015, according to medical journal Nature Medicine
Despite fears surrounding the research, the study was designed to show the risk of viruses carried by bats which could be transmitted to humans.
There is no suggestion the facility’s 2015 work is linked to the pandemic.
The lab was also recruiting new scientists to probe coronaviruses in bats just seven days before the outbreak.
China has began tightening security around its biolabs with President Xi Jinping saying it was a “national security” issue to improve scientific safety at a meeting last February.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement Saturday: “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,” he said.
“To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak.”
The New York Times also reported that Chinese officials had urged the WHO team to “embrace the government’s narrative about the source of the virus”.
The comments from the president’s top national security official are the latest sign the White House remains distrustful of Beijing over its relationship with WHO, even after Biden moved to re-join the organization after the previous president Donald Trump walked away from it last year.
After Biden’s administration said it wanted to review the data independently before commenting on the report, Peter Daszak, another Brit member of the WHO team, took to Twitter to criticize the administration for doubting the investigation.
Daszak though has come under fire himself over his professional ties with the Wuhan lab, and had is funding from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) suspended last year as a result.
He also undermined his fellow WHO team members who claimed China had not been fully transparent, saying he had “found trust & openness w/ my China counterparts.”
“We DID get access to critical new data throughout,” he wrote
He is known to be close pals with the scientists at WIV, including Dr Shi Zhengli – known as China’s “Bat Woman” – and even tweeted last year he wanted to have a party with her “in a bat cave“.
And last month, new docs released by the US revealed scientists in Wuhan fell ill with Covid-like symptoms in late 2019 – months before the pandemic began to ravage the world.
Documents already revealed Beijing downplayed the bug to “protect its image“, and there have been repeated allegations that China has manipulated its death and case figures.
Meanwhile, some 300 coronavirus studies by the Wuhan lab have been erased, raising more questions over China’s attempts to stall investigator
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China has since mostly returned to normal – not recording any significant Covid outbreaks since last March.
It emerged yesterday the Wuhan lab filed patents just months before the pandemic for special bat cages for virus experiments.
After Tuesday’s three hour press conference, Tobias Ellwood MP, chair of Defence committee, told The Sun Online: “This is a complete whitewash.
“Given the global economic devastation and death toll this pandemic has caused – never again should a country responsible for an outbreak be allowed to hinder an international investigation for a full 12 months.”