The World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday it wants to take part in Beijing’s probe into the origins of COVID-19.
"WHO would be keen to work with international partners and at the invitation of the Chinese government to participate in an investigation around the animal origins [of COVID-19]" WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told VOA in an email.
China is reportedly currently conducting its own investigations, but has blocked the WHO from joining the probes.
"It is our understanding that a number of investigations to better understand the source of the outbreak in China are currently underway or planned, including investigations of human cases with symptom onset in and around Wuhan in late 2019, " said Jasarevic. But "WHO is not currently involved in the studies in China."
Beijing has been criticized for a lack of transparency in its handling of the pandemic. In the United States, authorities are investigating whether the virus might have spread from a sophisticated Wuhan laboratory that studies coronaviruses.
U.S. intelligence agencies do not believe the virus was manmade or genetically modified, according to a statement issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Thursday. But it said the intelligence community will continue to examine emerging information and intelligence to "determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”
Meanwhile, China has strongly dismissed the possibility that the coronavirus pandemic originated in the lab.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday that any claims that the coronavirus was released from a laboratory are "purely fabricated out of nothing." Geng cited the lab's director, Yuan Zhiming, as saying the lab strictly implements bio-security procedures that would prevent the release of any pathogen. Geng in the meantime did say the issue, "should be studied by scientists and professionals."
WHO has been facing strong criticism from the Trump administration over what some U.S. officials see as an overly cozy relationship with China. Earlier this month, the U.S. suspended its WHO funding over such concerns.
In February, a joint mission of Chinese and WHO experts visited Wuhan and other cities in China to assess Beijing's epidemic prevention and control efforts. But WHO investigators are not participating in the current inquiry into the virus origins being conducted in China.
Jasarevic emphasized to VOA that the results of such probes "are essential" to preventing further outbreaks. He said WHO continues to collaborate with "countries and other partners to identify gaps and research priorities for the control of COVID-19, including the eventual identification of the source of the virus in China."
The World Health Organization's spokesman also weighed in on another critical issue with regard to the origin of COVID-19.
Scientists suspect the killer virus jumped from animals to humans, possibly through an intermediate animal host. This is one of the biggest puzzle pieces in tracing the coronavirus origin.
In his email to VOA Friday, the WHO spokesman said since there is usually limited close contact between humans and bats, "It is more likely that transmission of the virus from bats to humans happened through another animal species, one that is more likely to be handled by humans."