WHO team member Peter Ben Embarek (L) waves as group members Marion Koopmans and Peter Daszak leave their hotel – AFP
China has seized on the end of a trip by experts led by the World Health Organization investigating the origins of coronavirus to further its claims that the pandemic began abroad and was brought into the country.
The WHO team’s findings so far have been inconclusive, with scientists saying more research was needed to determine how the Covid-19 virus jumped to humans, causing a pandemic.
“Did we change dramatically the picture we had beforehand? I don’t think so,” said Dr Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO’s food safety and animal disease specialist and chairman of the investigation team. “Did we improve our understanding and add details to that story? Absolutely.”
China misrepresented those comments on Wednesday by claiming the WHO experts had found essentially nothing during its 28-day trip – evidence that the virus did not emerge in Wuhan.
“That the study could not find any evidence to determine the virus originated in Wuhan is to be expected as a fact-strengthening piece of evidence that the virus appeared in other countries before it was detected in Wuhan,” according to an editorial in state media China Daily.
State newspaper Global Times also sought to recast what WHO experts said about the Huanan Seafood Market’s link to the earliest known cases. The WHO team said it remained unclear whether the market was the site where the virus jumped to humans or if it was where the outbreak spread.
Chinese state media recast those comments by saying the “Huanan seafood market may not have been the original site of Covid-19 outbreak.”
“Bats and pangolin sample in Wuhan failed to provide evidence of coronavirus origins either, while viruses are extremely unlikely to leak from Wuhan labs, according to a report jointly published by experts from China and WHO,” wrote state outlet Global Times.
Beijing also took the opportunity to stress that the WHO needed to investigate in other countries, and singled out the US.
“We hope that the US side, like the Chinese side, will uphold an open and transparent attitude and invite WHO experts to the US to carry out research visits on the origins of the virus,” said foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin.
Mr Wang went on to claim that “quite a few clues reported and studies have shown…that the epidemic emerged in many parts of the world as early as the second half of 2019, including reports that the emergence of the new coronavirus in the U.S. may be earlier than reports of the first confirmed case.”