The director general of the World Health Organisation has said that the possibility that the Covid-19 virus leaked from a Chinese lab was discussed by world leaders at the G7 summit in Cornwall on Saturday.
And Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that China had not co-operated fully with the first part of an international probe into the origin of the outbreak, and called on Beijing to improve transparency out of “respect” for the victims of the disease.
There has been growing controversy over the cause of the outbreak which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan late in 2019, with increasing challenges to the dominant theory which blames a “wet market” where wild animals were sold for food.
China denies any suggestion that the killer pandemic could have been sparked by a leak of a manmade virus from a top-security research lab in the city.
Speaking by video link to the G7 summit in Cornwall, Dr Tedros suggested there had not been enough “transparency and cooperation” from China in the initial stages of the investigation.
Asked whether the possibility of a lab leak was still on the table, he said: “The first phase of the origin study was not conclusive. There are four hypotheses but not conclusive. I believe that all four hypotheses should be open. And we need to proceed with the second phase to really know the origins.”
Dr Tedros said that the lab leak theory was discussed at a health session of the G7 summit where leaders were briefed on a new global initiative to stamp down on future transfers of animal-borne diseases to human populations before they develop into pandemics.
“It was raised, and we discussed about the origin,” said the WHO chief.
He added: “More than 174m people have been confirmed with the Covid illness - and this is actually an under-estimate, it could be more. So far close to 3.75m people have died.
“This is very tragic and the respect these people deserve is knowing what the origin of this virus is so that we can prevent it happening again.
“The origin study is something the WHO is really serious about. We will need co-operation from the Chinese side, we will need transparency in order to understand and find the origin of this virus.
“As I indicated after the report (into the first phase of the study) was released, there were difficulties in data-sharing.
“I hope in the second phase there will be better co-operation and transparency so we can get into the root of the origin of the virus.”