Pressure is mounting on Beijing to offer up information on the origins of the Covid pandemic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned it is ready to send a team of scientists to China to probe how the virus spread to humans and plunge the world into crisis.
An initial investigation by the UN health agency in 2021, which saw a group of scientists travel to Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, concluded that Covid emerged naturally.
It was criticised due to a lack of cooperation from Beijing, which allegedly refused to discuss the lab leak theory unless the final report stated no further investigation was needed, and withheld key data and samples.
Now, WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has written to Beijing asking for ‘full access’ and that it was ready to send investigators.
‘We’re pressing China to give full access,’ he told the Financial Times.
‘We have already asked in writing to give us information…and also [are] willing to send a team if they allow us to do so.’
The WHO held an initial probe into Covid’s origins in 2021 but this highly criticised and was marked by a lack of cooperation from Xi Jinping’s Government.
Dr Ghebreyesus comments also mark a further willingness from the WHO to criticise China over its lack of transparency on Covid.
Nearly four years on from when cases of the virus first emerged in Wuhan, scientists are no closer to uncovering its origin.
Scientists claim it is vital to understand how the Covid pandemic began to prevent future outbreaks.
Top virologists backing the natural origins theory believe the virus originated in bats and infected an intermediary species — possibly a pangolin — before then infecting humans.
Studies point to Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan as being the epicentre of the outbreak. Many of the earliest cases in December 2019 and January 2020 had visited the site, where live animals were sold.
However, others believe the virus was leaked — accidentally or on purpose — from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was conducting experiments on live bats.
The WHO’s initial 2021 investigation, which saw 17 international and 17 Chinese experts spend four weeks in and around Wuhan, famously concluded that Covid emerged naturally and that a lab leak was ‘extremely unlikely’.
But Peter Ben Embarek, a program manager at the WHO who led the probe, later said Chinese officials only agreed to discuss the lab leak in the report on the condition that it did not call for any specific studies into the theory.