“As if we were thrown in front of a bus,” says virologist Marion Koopmans about the way World Health Organization director Tedros Ghebreyesus dropped the WHO team that was investigating the origin of the coronavirus in Wuhan.
Koopmans was part of the team in China, which did not consider a further investigation into a possible lab leak necessary. Tedros does.
The WHO team spent four weeks in China earlier this year but failed to make a breakthrough. Koopmans and the other experts did conclude that it is “improbable” that the virus leaked from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Further research into the ‘lablek’ hypothesis is therefore not necessary, according to the team. Tedros called that conclusion “premature” during a press conference.
The WHO boss finds research into a possible leak in the virus lab in Wuhan necessary and thus undermines his own research team. “We had a penetrating conversation,” Koopmans told Zembla. “I was quite annoyed.” In China, the investigation into the source of the virus has now come to a halt. However, at least five million corona deaths have been reported worldwide so far.
The WHO investigation was fraught, as it took place as the US and China shrugged off the virus’s origins. Virologist Ab Osterhaus had little faith in it beforehand because it “would become an enormously politicized meeting”. “I know roughly how things work in China,” he says. “The chance that you would surface what you want to know seemed very small to me.”
Looking back on the mission, Koopmans says he was naive. “In any case, I underestimated how unbelievably the focus has come to be on that mission.” However, she thinks this investigation would no longer be possible because “political wrangling” is a “very bad thing”. “In February, there was a list with recommendations for further research,” said the virologist. “The next step has not yet been taken. Sad.”
A deal between mission leader Peter Ben Embarek and the Chinese delegation that took part in the mission seems to be the reason for not further investigating the ‘lablek’ theory. Embarek says so in a recent Danish documentary. Provided that no further investigation was carried out, the theory was allowed to be named. The rest of the WHO team, according to Koopmans, knew nothing about that agreement. “We were all surprised by that.”