US, 13 other nations raise concerns over WHO-China joint report

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AGENCIES

Washington

The US signed on to a joint statement with 13 other countries, including Japan, criticising the World Health Organization’s (WHO) long-anticipated report on the origins of COVID-19.

The group of 14 countries argued that the WHO team was “significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples.”

The United States, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia and Israel said in a statement that they “fully” supported the WHO’s efforts to bring an end to the pandemic, including understanding how it “started and spread”.

But they added it was “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”.

Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Slovenia and the United Kingdom also co-signed the statement.

“In a serious outbreak of an unknown pathogen with pandemic potential, a rapid, independent, expert-led, and unimpeded evaluation of the origins is critical to better prepare our people, our public health institutions, our industries, and our governments to respond successfully to such an outbreak and prevent future pandemics,” according to the joint statement.

“Going forward, there must now be a renewed commitment by WHO and all Member States to access, transparency, and timeliness,” the group added.

The WHO released a long-awaited joint report on the origins of COVID-19 on Tuesday. The report pointed to the transmission from bats to another animal and subsequently to humans as the most likely way the pandemic began.

The review, which was conducted by a WHO team of international experts in Wuhan, China, between January 14 and February 10, is considered a first step in what will likely become a years-long investigation into the virus’ origins.

Meanwhile, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said that data was withheld from World Health Organization investigators who travelled to China to research the origins of the coronavirus epidemic.

“In my discussions with the team, they expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing raw data,” Tedros said. “I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing.”

Tedros demanded further research to reach “more robust conclusions”. “I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough,” he said during a news briefing on Tuesday.

“Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy,” Tedros added.

China has been criticised widely across the world for its alleged role in the spread of the novel coronavirus that has infected over 127 million people across the world. More than 2.79 million people have lost their lives to the virus, as per Johns Hopkins University.