The WHO is restarting its investigation into whether COVID-19 leaked from a Chinese lab, report says

By Bill Bostock

The World Health Organization is restarting its investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus in China, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The WHO is setting up the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens to investigate future virus outbreaks, and one of its first tasks is to establish whether the coronavirus could have emerged from a lab in Wuhan, WHO officials told The Journal. 

The team will comprise 20 specialists, including laboratory-safety experts, biosecurity experts, and geneticists and animal-disease experts, The Journal said. 

The WHO did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

The theory that the coronavirus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in late 2019 has long been touted as a possible cause of the pandemic, including by former President Donald Trump's officials and some US lawmakers. It was largely dismissed as a theory until this summer, when multiple scientists said it was not possible to rule out the theory.

Both a WHO team that visited in China in January and a US intelligence report published in August were unable to reach a conclusion on the lab-leak theory.

That WHO team said it was "extremely unlikely" that the coronavirus leaked from a lab, saying the most likely scenario was that the virus moved from either a bat or pangolin, to another animal, to humans. The US intelligence report said there was not enough evidence to say definitively what had happened. 

China denies the lab-leak theory and some Chinese officials have suggested without evidence that the virus may have escaped from a US Army lab instead, and that the WHO should investigate the American lab instead.

Several members of the WHO team that visited China in January had said that Chinese officials refused to hand over key information, such as raw patient data from early cases, that could have helped determine when and how COVID-19 started.

A WHO spokesperson told the Journal that the new team's "priority needs to be data and access in the country where the first reports were identified." 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had recently pressed Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general, to renew the inquiry into the lab-leak hypothesis, The Journal said.