WHO chief said it was 'premature' to dismiss the coronavirus lab-leak theory because 'lab accidents happen'

·2 min read
WHO DG
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Fabrice Coffrini / AFP via Getty Images
  • The WHO chief appeared to shift his stance on the likelihood that the coronavirus leaked from a lab.

  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday: "Lab accidents happen. It's common."

  • WHO had said it was "extremely unlikely" that the virus escaped from a Chinese laboratory.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The head of the World Health Organization said on Thursday that there'd been a "premature push" to dismiss the theory that the coronavirus leaked from a laboratory, adding that "lab accidents happen."

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO's director-general, appeared to walk back his organization's previous comments.

In February, it largely dismissed the possibility that the coronavirus had leaked from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, a theory that has regained some traction despite remaining unproven.

"I was a lab technician myself. I'm an immunologist, and I have worked in the lab," he told reporters at a press conference, footage of which was posted by France24.

"And lab accidents happen. It's common. I have seen it happening, and I have myself had errors. So it can happen."

US President Donald Trump and other members of his administration last year heavily suggested a link between a lab and the origin of the virus. Experts widely dismissed it.

The idea has regained some currency in recent months, though China's government has continued to dismiss it.

It gained greater credibility after President Joe Biden in May announced that he had asked intelligence officials to conduct a three-month review into theories about the origins of the virus, including the lab-leak theory.

After a monthlong investigation in China, where the first cases were recorded, WHO said in February that it was "extremely unlikely" that the virus had leaked from the Wuhan laboratory and concluded that it had most likely jumped from bats to people via an intermediary animal.

In May, an international group of 18 scientists pushed back and said WHO had not given the lab-leak theory "balanced consideration" during its investigation.

The group said the theory remained "viable" and noted that only four pages of WHO's 313-page report had discussed it.

Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO scientist, said in February that the organization would not be investigating the lab-leak hypothesis further, though Tedros' comments on Thursday appeared to suggest otherwise.

Tedros called on China to be more transparent and to cooperate in sharing data that WHO had requested early in the pandemic.

"We need information, direct information on what the situation of this lab was before and at the start of the pandemic," he said, according to France24.

"If we get full information, we can exclude" the theory, he said.

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