Citing global politics, World Health Organization abandons planned investigations of COVID origins

"Challenges" have caused too much time to elapse to carry out investigations, org says.

Published: February 15, 2023 10:39am

Updated: February 15, 2023 10:47am

The World Health Organization has abandoned a planned "phase two" of its intensive investigations into the origins of COVID-19, citing global politics and the challenges associated with carrying out the biomedical queries. 

The WHO "has quietly shelved the second phase of its much-anticipated scientific investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic," the journal Nature reported on Tuesday.

Officials with WHO in January of 2021 traveled to Wuhan, China in an attempt to learn more about the virus's origins. The highly anticipated research trip was hoped to shed more light on the workings of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a high-level coronavirus research facility located just a few miles from the first confirmed public outbreak of the virus.

In a much-maligned report, the team strongly downplayed the possibility that the virus may have originally escaped from that lab, claiming instead the most likely route of transmission for the virus was an interspecies jump from bats to humans.

Further investigations by WHO were planned. But Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist with WHO, told Nature that there is "no phase two" of the organization's efforts.

"The politics across the world of this really hampered progress on understanding the origins,” she said.

Scientists are still working to narrow down certain questions regarding the earliest cases of the virus in Wuhan and elsewhere, Nature said. 

But, the journal added, "too much time has passed to gather some of the data needed to pinpoint where the virus originated."

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