A WHO team led by Peter Ben Embarek said today they failed to find evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 was produced in or released from a Chinese laboratory. However, he was unable to resolve other questions about the beginning of the pandemic and could not definitively say whether the virus was infecting people in China before December 2019.
While the WHO failed to identify large numbers of COVID-19 cases prior to December 8th, the date the Chinese have identified as their first finding of COVID in a patient, Dr. Ben Embarek stated that the tests China recently performed to look for Covid-19 antibodies in early samples might not be conclusive.
The WHO team visited the seafood market in downtown Wuhan where many of the first infections were identified as well as hospitals that treated some of those first infections. They finally were able to visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which houses the laboratories where some have suggested that the virus might have escaped as result of some kind of accidents. China has dismissed this idea as being completely groundless and stated the virus had natural origins.
Of interest, the WSJ reports today that the WHO identified 92 cases in the area around Wuhan from much earlier in 2019 that appeared clinically to be COVID-19. While the Chinese say many of these individuals tested negative for COVID-19 antibodies, the WHO was not convinced.
“The (antibody) numbers are not so important. What is important is that we don’t really know how reliable serology testing is to detect antibodies for SARS-CoV-2 more than a year after infection,” Dr. Embarek said. Another WHO researcher, microbiologist Fabian Leendertz, said the probability of finding antibodies that late would be low.
Given these findings, the WHO’s focus has changed from examining an accidental release of the virus from the laboratory to a more concerted effort to identify exactly when the pandemic began in China. Since cases now appear to have been in Europe as early as October 2019, understanding if there were individuals who were infected much earlier in China would help clarify how the virus initially spread. The WHO plans to continue their investigation and visit China again.
None of this will help with the current efforts to stop this pandemic, but this information could provide important insights into how the pandemic began and how future pandemics could be identified earlier and controlled more effectively before they spread worldwide.
The U.S. has long believed that China has not been forthright about the exact origin of the pandemic. The WHO has been central to these concerns and needs to resolve these issues for the good of the world and to re-establish their own credibility.