Medical workers in protective suits attend to COVID-19 patients at an ICU of a designated hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province, February 6, 2020. Photo: China Daily via Reuters/File Photo
New Delhi: After Beijing asserted that the probe into the origin of the coronavirus should move away from China, India on Friday indicated that the World Health Organisation’s future studies required the “understanding and cooperation of all”.
India’s statement was clearly aligning with the US, which has been pushing to have a greater influence on the second phase of studies by the UN’s global health body into the source of the coronavirus.
The WHO has been holding its annual World Health Assembly (WHA) since April 24, which marks the return of the US to the UN agency since the Biden administration undid former President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from it.
“The WHO convened global study on the origin of COVID-19 as an important first step. It stressed the need for the next phase studies as also for further data and studies to reach robust conclusions. The follow up of the WHO report and further studies deserve the understanding and cooperation of all,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Friday.
The use of the phrase “understanding and cooperation of all” pointed at China, which has explicitly stated that the origins probe has to look beyond the Asian giant in the future.
“China’s part has been completed. China supports the scientists to conduct a global origin tracing cooperation. We call on all parties to adopt an open and transparent attitude to cooperate with the WHO in origin tracing,” said a Chinese representative to the WHA on Tuesday.
The White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt reiterated that China had to provide more answers. “It is our position that we need to get to the bottom of this, and we need a completely transparent process from China; we need the WHO to assist in that matter. We don’t feel like we have that now. We need to get to the bottom of this, whatever the answer may be, and that’s a critical priority for us,” he told reporters.
The WHO’s joint report with Chinese scientists released in March this year had assessed that while transmission from bats to humans was “likely”, it was “extremely unlikely” that SARS-CoV-2 would have emerged due to a “laboratory accident”.
However, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that the laboratory leak hypothesis “required further investigation” with “additional missions involving specialist experts”.
At that time, India had squarely backed the WHO chief and welcomed his “readiness to deploy additional missions”.
On May 23, the Wall Street Journal reported that US intelligence agencies had found that three researchers at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology had been hospitalised in November 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illness”. The Chinese institute had been involved in research studies on coronavirus in bats.
With the laboratory leak theory getting more traction, US President Biden asked the US intelligence community (IC) to submit a report within 90 days on the possibility of this hypothesis. This would be a follow-up to a report submitted earlier this month, which found that the “majority of elements (in IC) do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other”.
“I have now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyse information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days,” Biden announced on Wednesday.