WHO Gave China Veto Power over American Scientists Joining COVID-Origin Investigation

The World Health Organization gave China veto power over who would join the team investigating the origins of the novel coronavirus, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

That veto power was extended to any American scientists who applied to join the team. The Department of Health and Human Services recommended three scientists, including a virologist who is an expert on viruses that require high-security labs for study. WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told the Journal that none of the Americans recommended for the team were accepted.

However, one American who applied separately was accepted: Peter Daszak, president of the non profit EcoHealth Alliance.

Daszak had spent years studying bat coronaviruses and has worked with Shi Zhengli, director of the Center for Emerging Diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, one of two laboratories in the city of Wuhan researching bat coronaviruses. The EcoHealth Alliance, Daszak’s organization, diverted $600,000 in grants from U.S. National Institutes of Health to the WIV between 2014 and 2019 to study bat coronaviruses.

U.S. officials and scientists were concerned about Daszak’s potential conflict of interest, amid speculation that the novel coronavirus may have escaped from a lab in Wuhan. Daszak provided the WHO with a conflict-of-interest statement, and the agency accepted him.

Daszak also organized a public statement, published in the medical journal The Lancet and signed by a group of scientists, which ruled out the lab-leak hypothesis.

The team of scientists who traveled to Wuhan included WHO researchers and was established as an independent body that would report its findings to the agency. China has not publicly identified most of its representatives on the team.

The WHO shelved a planned report on the team’s findings in Wuhan earlier this month, following scientists’ calls for greater transparency. While in Wuhan, the team leader Peter Ben Embarek concluded that it was unlikely that the coronavirus first leaked from a lab, and that the WHO would probably not continue investigating the possibility. However, after leaving China, Ben Embarek said that the possibility of a lab lead was “definitely not off the table.”

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