Already facing flak for being soft towards China and having faltered in its early response to the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) is up against the wall in clearing the air about the origins of the deadly virus. A probe by the global body’s team of experts during its four-week long visit to Wuhan has failed to provide any definitive answers on the origin and spread of the virus. As a result, even more than a year after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has claimed over 23 lakh lives so far across the globe, there is still no clarity about the origins. The findings of the WHO team, though tentative, appear to support the Chinese government’s protestations of innocence. Repeatedly accused by the United States and other countries of covering up and not sharing information about the virus with the world, China has not only been denying any wrongdoing but also claiming that the virus may have originated in Europe or the US. Debunking the controversial theory that the virus may have accidentally leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, the WHO team suggested that it most likely passed to people from an intermediate animal host. Curiously, they also offered two hypotheses promoted by the Chinese government: that it is possible that the virus came from an animal outside China, and that once the virus was circulating in people it could have spread to others on frozen wildlife and other cold packaged goods. That theory has been heavily promoted by the Chinese media.
No wonder that the United States expressed doubts over the findings and sought an independent review of the conclusions and the underlying data. The hunt for pandemic’s origins must continue because of the widespread scepticism surrounding the WHO team’s findings. It must be pointed out that Beijing had, for long, tried to stall any international investigations into the origin and spread of the virus. The inordinate delay in initiating the probe rightly drew flak from the international community. And, there was no transparency in the whole process, though the entire world was looking up to the WHO to provide definite answers. From the faltering early response to the confused and contradictory messaging, the WHO has been fumbling in its role as the global leader in the fight against the pandemic. The alleged soft approach towards China and the delayed warnings about the spread of the virus have only made matters worse and hampered coordinated global efforts. With the pandemic far from over, China’s negligence or otherwise must be established beyond any doubt. Getting to the bottom of the matter is also critical to help the nations prepare better for such biological catastrophes in future.
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