Chinese whispers: WHO-China joint probe, as was expected, leaves nobody any wiser about SARS CoV-2’s origins

That said, the origin question is secondary from the point of view of holding China, even notionally, accountable.

The WHO report on the origins of SARS CoV-2 virus—after nearly a month-long investigation in China, involving visits to Wuhan’s hospitals, animal markets and government laboratories—establishes precious little. Though, it isn’t as if this was something unexpected. Indeed, what was really to be gained from a probe that was happening a year after the pandemic broke out?

The 124-page joint report by WHO and China, many media reports hold, is rich in detail but leaves nobody any wiser about the virus’s origins than they were before the probe. While the report rules out SARS CoV-2 having originated in a lab in China—this was always a far-fetched postulate though there are many prominent backers of this, including many senior scientists—the dominant explanation remains the ‘bats to animals to humans’ route.

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If the long delay wasn’t reason enough for any such probe to remain inconclusive, the fact that the probe was constantly under the shadow of the Chinese government—the probe had 17 WHO members and 17 Chinese scientists, many of whom hold important government positions—should have been an indicator of the futility of undertaking any such exercise.

Other than this, there have also been several allegations of a high likelihood of the Chinese withholding crucial information. That said, the origin question is secondary from the point of view of holding China, even notionally, accountable. The international community should rather keep up its pressure on China and the WHO over their failure to correctly assess the risks in the initial days of the outbreak in the country; this played no small role in the disease spreading to 219 countries and territories and killing 2.8 million people across the globe.

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