The WHO said it still hasn't written off the 'extremely unlikely' theory that the coronavirus escaped from a Wuhan lab

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Marianne Guenot
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WHO wuhan
Members of the WHO team investigating the origins of the coronavirus. Kyodo News/Getty
  • A top WHO scientist said the theory that the coronavirus came from a lab is "extremely unlikely."

  • But he said the theory is "definitely not off the table."

  • The investigation into the virus origins has been fraught with political tension.

  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The World Health Organization has still not ruled out the theory that the novel coronavirus had escaped from a Chinese laboratory.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, the lead scientist on the WHO's mission to Wuhan, said that a lab-accident theory is "definitely not off the table."

On February 11, after a WHO mission completed a four-week trip to China to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, WHO director general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had said: "I want to clarify that all hypotheses remain open and require further study."

A spokesman for the WHO told Insider in a Monday that this statement remains valid.

Former President Donald Trump's administration had pushed the theory that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was man-made in a Chinese lab. The lab director has called this claim "pure fabrication."

Ben Embarek had called the hypothesis that the pandemic might have come from a lab leak "extremely unlikely" on February 10, upon the completion of the WHO's China trip.

A report presenting the results of the WHO's investigation has not yet been published.

Tedros initially said he planned to release an interim report of the results, but that plan was scrapped last week.

The WHO said the full report and a summary of the investigation's results would be released in the coming weeks instead.

Questions have been raised about the WHO mission's capacity to do their job amid high political tensions.

Last Thursday, 26 scientists wrote a letter saying that a full investigation into the origin of the virus is "all but impossible" because of "structural limitations" to the way the investigation was carried out.

In line with the terms of reference of the mission, China has not released raw data to the scientists on the mission, making it more difficult to interpret the data.

President Joe Biden's White House said last month that it was "deeply concerned" about the way early findings were communicated, adding: "It is imperative that [the WHO report] be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government."

That call was backed by the UK.

In response to the White House, China's embassy in Washington, DC, said the US should not be "pointing fingers" at countries that supported the WHO during the pandemic, Reuters reported.

In the first few months of the pandemic, China pledged billions of dollars of extra funding to the WHO while Trump ordered the US to stop funding the agency, having repeatedly criticized it for being too China-centric.

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