WHO's who: New COVID-19 origins team includes familiar faces

·3 min read

The World Health Organization has announced its new 26-member COVID-19 origins team — but it includes six people who were part of a widely criticized team that deemed the Wuhan lab leak hypothesis "extremely unlikely" earlier this year.

The flawed WHO-China study from early 2021 contended that a jump from animals to humans was most likely. But it was largely dismissed due to a lack of access to key data and Chinese influence over the investigation.

In July, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus admitted there was a "premature push" to dismiss the lab escape possibility, but the Chinese government has repeatedly shot down the suggestion of a second investigation.


Six of the 17 international members of the earlier study are now returning as part of the newly announced team: Dr. Thea Fischer, a professor of virology at the University of Copenhagen, Dr. John Watson, a professor of population health at London’s School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Dr. Vladimir Dedkov, the deputy director for research at the Pasteur Institute in Russia, Dr. Hung Nguyen-Viet, the co-program leader of the Animal and Human Health Program at the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya, Dr. Elmoubasher Farag, a senior infectious disease epidemiologist at the Ministry of Public Health in Qatar, and Dr. Marion Koopmans, the head of the department of the Viroscience at Erasmus MC in the Netherlands.

Some on the new team also have connections to EcoHealth Alliance’s Peter Daszak. Daszak, a longtime collaborator with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, was part of the first team but not the new one.

Koopmans has worked closely with Daszak in the past, and the first group listed on the Erasmus Viroscience “Collaborators” webpage is EcoHealth.

Another member of the new team, Dr. Christian Drosten, the head of the Institute of Virology at Charité in Germany, signed both the March 2020 and July 2021 letters in Lancet, which cast doubt on the lab leak hypothesis. Daszak helped organize the original Lancet letter.

The February 2020 Lancet letter defended China and dismissed the lab leak hypothesis as a conspiracy theory, and media outlets and government officials pointed to the letter to shut down the debate over COVID-19’s origins.

One of the 26 members of the new WHO advisory group is also from China.

Yun-Gui Yang was previously the Chinese head of the joint WHO-China team's molecular tracing group early this year, and he defended China to the Communist Party-run CGTN outlet in April, saying, “China's invitation to the WHO to come to China to carry out origins tracing, shows it is acting as a responsible major power and is providing a cooperative paradigm for continuing origins tracing in other countries.”

Yang is the deputy director at the Beijing Institute of Genomics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which oversees the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

One American was named to the WHO advisory group: Dr. Inger Damon, the director of the Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an assessment this summer stating that one U.S. intelligence agency assessed with “moderate confidence” that COVID-19 most likely emerged from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan, while four U.S. spy agencies and the National Intelligence Council believe with “low confidence” COVID-19 most likely has a natural origin. Other parts of the U.S. intelligence community remain on the fence.

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Tags: News, World Health Organization, China, Coronavirus

Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy

Original Location: WHO's who: New COVID-19 origins team includes familiar faces