The United States and 13 other nations issued a statement Tuesday raising “shared concerns” about the newly released World Health Organization report on the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19.
The statement, released on the U.S. State Department website, as well as the other signatories, said it was essential to express concerns that the international expert study on the source of the virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples.
The WHO formally released its report earlier Tuesday, saying while the report presents a comprehensive review of available data, “we have not yet found the source of the virus.” The team reported difficulties in accessing raw data, among other issues, during its visit to the city of Wuhan, China, earlier this year.
The researchers also had been forced to wait days before receiving final permission by the Chinese government to enter Wuhan.
The joint statement by the U.S. and others went on to say, “scientific missions like these should be able to do their work under conditions that produce independent and objective recommendations and findings.” The nations expressed their concerns in the hope of laying “a pathway to a timely, transparent, evidence-based process for the next phase of this study as well as for the next health crises.”
Along with the U.S., the statement was signed by the governments of Australia, Britain, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the Republic of Korea, and Slovenia.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday further study and more data are needed to confirm if the virus was spread to humans through the food chain or through wild or farmed animals.
Tedros said that while the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, the matter requires further investigation.
WHO team leader Peter Ben Embarek told reporters Tuesday that it is “perfectly possible” COVID-19 cases were circulating as far back as November or October 2019 around Wuhan, earlier than has been documented regarding the spread of the virus.