India calls for further investigation on Covid-19 origin following WHO’s inconclusive findings

New Delhi, April 2: Reacting for the first time on the World Health Organization (WHO) report on the origin of Covid-19, India has said that it shares the “need for a comprehensive and expert-led mechanism” that would “expeditiously investigate” the origin of Covid-19 virus in cooperation with all stakeholders.

“We join other stakeholders in voicing their expectations that follow up to the WHO Report or further studies, including on an understanding of the earliest human cases and clusters by the WHO on this critical issue, will receive the fullest cooperation of all concerned,” a spokesperson from India’s External Affairs Ministry said on Thursday night.

India stressed that it will continue to work with the WHO to strengthen capacity and improve global health security so that the present report and further studies will provide valuable inputs on developing protocols and building a knowledge base and expertise that facilitates genomic surveillance to track virus mutations and pro-actively respond to the next global pandemic.

“It is pertinent to note that the Director General of the WHO has separately raised the issue of delays and difficulties in accessing raw data for the team conducting the study. We fully support the Director General’s expectation that future collaborative studies will include more timely and comprehensive data sharing. In this connection, we also welcome his readiness to deploy additional missions,” the MEA said in response to media queries on the recently released WHO-convened global study.

The Ministry said that report represents an important first step in establishing the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has listed four pathways concerning the emergence of the disease but has stressed the need for next-phase studies across the region. The report also stresses the need for further data and studies to reach robust conclusions.

The findings of the report, prepared after a Wuhan field visit by an international team from January 14 to February 10, were published Tuesday as WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for further studies. It listed transmission of the novel coronavirus from bats to humans through another animal as the most likely scenario for the spread of Covid-19.

“As far as WHO is concerned, all hypotheses remain on the table. This report is a very important beginning, but it is not the end. We have not yet found the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and leave no stone unturned as we do,” said Tedros.

“Finding the origin of a virus takes time and we owe it to the world to find the source so we can collectively take steps to reduce the risk of this happening again. No single research trip can provide all the answers,” he added in the statement after the release of the report.

However, as many as 14 countries – including the US, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, South Korea, Slovenia, and the UK – jointly expressed “shared concerns” regarding the WHO-convened study without naming China.

“The international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples. Scientific missions like these should be able to do their work under conditions that produce independent and objective recommendations and findings,” the U.S. Department of State said in a joint statement.

It further called for independent experts to have full access to all pertinent human, animal, and environmental data, research, and personnel involved in the early stages of the outbreak relevant to determining how the pandemic emerged.

“We underscore the need for a robust, comprehensive, and expert-led mechanism for expeditiously investigating outbreaks of unknown origin that is conducted with full and open collaboration among all stakeholders and in accordance with the principles of transparency, respect for privacy, and scientific and research integrity,” said the Joe Biden administration.

Japan said Thursday that along with the rest of the countries, it supports a transparent and independent analysis and evaluation, free from interference and undue influence, of the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In order to prevent future pandemics, it is indispensable to carry out prompt, independent and experts-led investigations that are free of surveillance. We are concerned that the latest investigation faced delays and the lack of access to virus samples,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato was quoted as saying by AP.

Meanwhile, China has slammed the 14 countries criticizing the WHO report, saying they are “politicizing” the origins of Covid-19.

“The politicization of virus traceability is extremely unethical and unpopular,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday. “It can only hinder global traceability cooperation and undermine global anti-epidemic cooperation.”

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