WHO team urges patience after 1st look for origin of virus

FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021 file photo, Peter Ben Embarek of a World Health Organization team speaks to journalists, at the end of their WHO mission to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province. An international team behind a long-awaited study of the possible origins of COVID-19 with Chinese colleagues on Tuesday, March 30 called it a first start, while the United States and allies expressed concerns about the findings and China trumpeted its cooperation. Team leader Peter Ben Embarek of the World Health Organization presented the teams first-phase look into the possible origins of the pandemic that has killed nearly 2.8 million people and pummeled economies since it first turned up in China over a year ago. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, file) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

GENEVA – An international team behind a long-awaited study of the possible origins of COVID-19 with Chinese colleagues on Tuesday called it a “first start,” while the United States and allies expressed concerns about the findings and China trumpeted its cooperation.

Team leader Peter Ben Embarek of the World Health Organization presented the team’s first-phase look into the possible origins of the pandemic that has killed nearly 2.8 million people and pummeled economies since it first turned up in China over a year ago.

The report, obtained by The Associated Press on Monday and formally published on Tuesday, said transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and that a lab leak is “extremely unlikely.” The WHO chief has said all hypotheses remain open.

After the report's publication, the U.S. and over a dozen other countries expressed concerns about the study, pointing to delays and a lack of access to samples and data — without finger-pointing at Beijing directly. China responded by reiterating its criticism of efforts to “politicize” the issue.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration was still reviewing the WHO report, but said “it lacks crucial data, information ... It lacks access. It lacks transparency." She said the study did not rise to the level of the impact that the pandemic has had on the world.

“That’s why we also have called for additional forward-looking steps,” she said in a briefing with reporters. "It doesn’t lead us to any closer (an) understanding or greater knowledge than we had six to nine months ago about the origin.”

Separately, in what it called a joint statement by 14 countries, the State Department said they were calling for “momentum” for a second-phase look by experts and pointed to the need for further animal studies “to find the means of introduction into humans” of the coronavirus.

The countries expressed support for the WHO’s experts and staff, citing their “tireless” work toward ending the pandemic and understanding its origins to help prevent a future one. But they said the study had been “significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples.”