A leading scientist on the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 mission to China has said a follow-up trip could be helpful to gather additional research on the origins of the disease, but should be separate from any audit of information provided by Beijing.
The comments from Dutch virologist Marion Koopmans came on Tuesday after the United States called for international experts to be allowed to evaluate the source of the coronavirus and the early days of the outbreak, in a second phase of the WHO’s investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.
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Koopmans was part of the WHO-led team which spent four weeks in China earlier this year and in March published a report jointly with Chinese scientists that said the virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal.
“Introduction through a laboratory incident was considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway,” its report said.
Discussions about the outbreak gained renewed attention this week as US intelligence agencies examine reports that researchers at a Chinese virology laboratory in Wuhan were seriously ill in 2019 a month before the first cases of COVID-19 were reported.
US government sources have said there is still no proof the disease originated in the lab.
US urges transparency
White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt on Monday said the WHO and China need to do more to provide definitive answers for the global community.
“We need a completely transparent process from China,” Slavitt said at Tuesday’s coronavirus task force briefing. Full assistance from the WHO is needed, and “we don’t have that now”.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease official, said “many of us” feel like COVID-19 was a natural occurrence, but “we don’t know 100 percent” and it is imperative to investigate.
Koopmans said the team would be eager to carry out additional research in China in a number of areas and was awaiting the outcome of WHO discussions.
She stressed the need for a clear mandate to conduct research, not to carry out an audit.
“I think these cannot be combined. So we believe that is a combination that will not work. In that case, you say we are going to carry out an inspection, or we are going to do the follow-up research, or both, but through different mechanisms, otherwise you simply will not make any progress,” she said.