Australia, US express ‘shared concerns’ about WHO coronavirus origins report
30th March 2021

Washington: The Morrison government has joined 13 other countries, including the Biden administration in the US, to express their “shared concerns” about the World Health Organisation’s report into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

The draft report, released on Wednesday (AEDT), found the virus most likely spread to humans through animal transmission, rather than a laboratory leak, and that COVID-19 probably began spreading only a month or so before it was noticed in December of 2019.

The Morrison government led the push for an international investigation into the origins of the pandemic. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged that his investigators were not able to access all the data they wanted during their trip to Wuhan, China.

“The mission of the WHO is critical to advancing global health and health security,” the governments of Australia, the US, United Kingdom, Japan, Israel, Canada and several other nations said in a statement after the draft report’s release.

“With such an important mandate, it is equally essential that we voice our shared concerns that the international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples.

“Scientific missions like these should be able to do their work under conditions that produce independent and objective recommendations and findings.”

The nations said there was a need for further investigation and that they supported a “transparent and independent analysis and evaluation, free from interference and undue influence, of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The Morrison government led the push for an independent inquiry, prompting China to punish Australian exporters with bans and hikes in tariffs on a range of products including barley, wine, coal and lobsters.

At a briefing about the report, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “In my discussions with the team, they expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing raw data.

“I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said his investigators could not access all the data they wanted to. Credit:AP

In particular, he said the team did not have full access to biological samples from September 2019 that could help them understand the earliest known cases of COVID-19.

Although the study found the so-called “lab leak theory” was the least likely cause of transmission, Tedros said it required further investigation and that he would be willing to deploy investigators to probe the topic.

“Since this was not the key or main focus of the studies, it did not receive the same depth of attention and work as the other hypotheses,” he said.

Over the weekend US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration was concerned that “the government in Beijing apparently helped to write” the report.

Peter Ben Emberek, the WHO’s lead investigator, said: “We got access to quite a lot of data in many different areas, but, of course, there are areas where we had difficulties getting down to the raw data.”

He added that the team had a “very strong, good collaboration with our colleagues in China”.

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