A draft copy of the highly-anticipated World Health Organisation-China report from the Wuhan mission to find the origins of Covid-19 has again drawn criticism over its findings.
While the report, obtained by Associated Press, concludes it is highly likely the virus was originally transmitted from bats to humans through another animal, there is little advancement from the experts' previous stance in the immediate aftermath of the trip which concluded in February.
And predictably, the report has prompted heavy criticism from the US, with questions once again raised over the access granted to Western experts while in China.
Director of Global Health Policy and Politics Initiative at Georgetown University, Dr Matthew Kavanagh, said while the report deepened the understanding of the virus’s origins, more information was needed.
“It is clear that that the Chinese government has not provided all the data needed and, until they do, firmer conclusions will be difficult,” he said in a statement.
Experts say Wuhan trip was not an investigation
Atlantic Council senior fellow Jamie Metzl, a former staffer to President Biden when he led the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, told CBS's 60 Minutes there was a misconception globally as to what the visit to Wuhan entailed.
"Everybody around the world is imagining this is some kind of full investigation. It's not. This group of experts only saw what the Chinese government wanted them to see," he said.
Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, an expert in vaccines at Flinders University, previously echoed Mr Metzl's sentiment.
"It is important to correct the public misconception this was an investigation," he told Yahoo News Australia.
"This was a joint study group to look at study data collected by the Chinese."
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently told CNN they have "real concerns about the methodology and the process that went into the report, including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it".
Those remarks prompted a furious response from Beijing on Monday, calling Blinken's remarks "groundless accusations and wanton denigration".
"Isn’t the US trying to exert political pressure on the members of the WHO expert group?” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian asked.
Republicans question US funding of WHO
There was heavy criticism from Republicans too, with many questioning the US's funding of the WHO after former president Donald Trump remarkably pulled funding last year only for it to be reinstated by President Joe Biden.
US Republican politician Steve Scalise said the WHO allowed China to write the report.
"What a joke," he declared on Twitter.
Mark Meadows, former White House Chief of Staff under Trump, said the WHO is "covering for China" and the Biden Administration has "yet to hold either one accountable".
Yet Dr Kavanagh said criticism of the WHO revealed a misunderstanding of their role.
"Many critics of the WHO reflect a misunderstanding of its role and a chronic tendency of member states and pundits to blame WHO for not doing what member states haven't empowered it to do," he said.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, said he would like to see the report’s raw information first before deciding about its credibility.
“I’d also would like to inquire as to the extent in which the people who were on that group had access directly to the data that they would need to make a determination,” he said.
Lab leak theory to be abandoned
The report, which is expected to be made public Tuesday, is being closely watched as discovering the origins of the virus could help scientists prevent future pandemics — but it’s also extremely sensitive since China bristles at any suggestion that it is to blame for the global Covid crisis.
The team proposed further research in every area except the lab leak hypothesis — a speculative theory that was promoted by former US President Donald Trump among others.
It also said the role played by a seafood market where human cases were first identified was uncertain.
The report said such laboratory accidents are rare, that the labs in Wuhan were well-managed and there is no record of viruses closely related to the coronavirus in any laboratory before December 2019.
The mission was never meant to identify the exact natural source of the virus, an endeavour that typically takes years.
For instance, more than 40 years of study has still failed to pinpoint the exact species of bat that are the natural reservoir of Ebola.
The theory of the virus spreading through cold-chain transmission via frozen products was deemed possible but not likely, further raising questions about the politicisation of the study since China has long pushed the theory which was previous dismissed by the WHO and some Western experts.
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