A top official with the World Health Organization said in a recent press conference that it is “definitely too early” to conclude that the novel coronavirus originated in China.
Michael Ryan, the executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, made the statement in a press conference Friday in Geneva, just as a team of WHO-backed scientists were beginning an investigation in Wuhan into the origins of the virus.
“I think we have to say this quite plainly; all hypotheses are on the table and it is definitely too early to come to a conclusion of exactly where this virus started either within or without China,” Ryan said at the press conference, also attended by WHO secretary Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Ryan had been asked by an NBC News reporter about denials from the head of China’s CDC that the virus originated in his country.
Ryan referred to virus found in sewage as well as blood tests conducted outside China that could indicate “earlier infection.”
Health researchers have said that the coronavirus likely popped up in Wuhan in November 2019. Debate has raged in recent months over whether the pandemic began in one of Wuhan’s wildlife markets or whether it was the result of a lab accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Ryan urged against drawing conclusions about where the virus originated.
“Let’s step back, let’s follow the evidence, let’s follow the science. Our team are on the ground, they’re having a good experience working with our Chinese colleagues. We’re working through the data. The data will lead us to the next phase, where we need to go next to look at the origins of this virus,” Ryan said.“It is too early to come to any conclusion but again we believe we are making some progress and we hope to continue to do so in the interests of public health in future.”
WHO has been accused of catering to Chinese government officials who have downplayed the threat of the virus in the early days of the pandemic. President Donald Trump blocked U.S. government funding for WHO last year, citing the organization’s soft stance towards China.
President Joe Biden has said he will resume funding for WHO.
On Jan. 14, 2020, WHO tweeting talking points from the Chinese government that the coronavirus was not transmitted from human-to-human contact.
Since then, the coronavirus has infected nearly 100 million people across the globe and caused 2 million deaths.
Tedros, the WHO chief, has recently offered some light criticism of the Chinese government over its response to calls for investigations in Wuhan. Tedros said earlier this month that it was “disappointing” that the Chinese government was blocking the WHO experts from starting their investigation in Wuhan.
WHO did not respond to a request for comment.
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