The team investigating the origins of the coronavirus in China had difficulties accessing the raw data, World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday.
Referring to the team’s investigation into the theory that the pandemic could have resulted from a laboratory leak, Tedros said that he did “not believe that this assessment was extensive enough.”
“Further data and studies will be needed to reach more robust conclusions,” he added. He made his remarks to member countries before a press conference coinciding with the publication of the report.
Peter Ben Embarek, team leader of the China mission, also cited areas where the team “had difficulties getting down to the raw data.” This was due to many reasons, he said, noting that restrictions on privacy laws and the sheer scale of the data were also a challenge.
While the team had looked at the lab incident possibility, “since it was not the key or main focus of the studies it did not receive the same depth or attention as the other hypothesis,” Embarek added. Nevertheless, he said it was ranked as the “least likely” possibility.
The report from the team of scientists was published after a leaked copy of the report circulated on Monday. It found that the laboratory leak theory was “extremely unlikely,” and that the most likely answer was that coronavirus had spread from bats to another animal that in turn infected humans.
Meanwhile, the U.S., U.K. and 12 other countries issued a joint statement “expressing shared concerns” about the WHO-convened study in China, saying it was “significantly delayed” and lacked access to complete data.
“The international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples,” the statement said. “Scientific missions like these should be able to do their work under conditions that produce independent and objective recommendations and findings.”
“We share these concerns not only for the benefit of learning all we can about the origins of this pandemic, but also to lay a pathway to a timely, transparent, evidence-based process for the next phase of this study as well as for the next health crises,” it added.
The signatories include Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, South Korea and Slovenia.
Emma Anderson contributed reporting.