WHO responds to claims Wuhan lab worker could be COVID patient zero

16-Aug-2021 Intellasia | Yahoo News UK | 7:03 AM Print This Post

The World Health Organization (WHO) has played down media reports of comments by its own chief investigator that a lab worker in Wuhan could be COVID-19′s patient zero.

Dr Peter Embarek, the epidemiologist who led the WHO’s four-week fact-finding mission in China earlier this year, said it was “one of the likely hypotheses” that the first person to be infected with coronavirus was a lab employee.

He said one theory is that the lab worker was infected while taking samples from bats.

In an interview from a documentary shared by Danish television station TV2 on Thursday, he said: “An employee that could have been infected in the field while taking samples belongs to one of the likely hypotheses.

“This is where the virus jumps directly from a bat to a human. In that case, it would then be a laboratory worker instead of a random villager or other person who has regular contact with bats.”

The comments appear to portray a significant U-turn by the WHO’s investigation team, who said back in February the lab leak theory was “extremely unlikely”.

But the WHO played down Dr Embarek’s quotes to Danish television.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told Yahoo News UK reports of the conversation had been an “incorrect translation of an old interview”, saying it was recorded in March or April.

He told Yahoo News UK: “There are no new elements nor change of the position all hypotheses are on the table.”

The documentary, The Virus Mystery, aired on TV2 on Thursday.

Dr Embarek told the programme the WHO found no direct evidence the COVID-19 outbreak in China was linked to bat research in Wuhan’s labs or at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

China has continued to dismiss the lab leak theory, while most scientists agree it was not the likely cause of the coronavirus pandemic but it cannot be ruled out.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last month it was “premature” to rule out a possible lab leak as the source of COVID-19.

He said: “I was a lab technician myself. I’m an immunologist and I have worked in the lab and lab accidents happen. It’s common.”

In the Danish TV2 documentary, Dr Embarek is pictured inspecting the stalls at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan and examining what he said might have been living quarters for people who handled live animals there.

“It would mean that the contact between the human beings and whatever may have been in the market i.e. virus and maybe live animals would have been more intense,” he said, in quotes reported by the Associated Press.

“It goes without saying that the close contact would be doubled many times between humans and animals if you are among them around the clock.”

In the Danish documentary, Dr Embarek also expressed concerns about another lab, close to the market, run by the Chinese centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

“What is more concerning to me is the other lab,” Dr Embarek said. “The one that is next to the market.”

US president Joe Biden has commissioned a report into the possibility of the lab leak origin theory, which is expected to be published at the end of this month.

Former Conservative Party leader, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, co-chair of the inter-parliamentary alliance on China, told the Daily Telegraph that the Chinese authorities and the WHO “need to come clean”.



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