World Health Organization inspectors had “very frank” discussions with Chinese scientists about the source of the pandemic, including theories it leaked from a laboratory, the head of the probe in Wuhan told AFP Thursday.
The talks covered famous claims widely reported in global media, Peter Ben Embarek said in an interview a day after he and his WHO team visited the lab.
While he did not identify specific theories, Ben Embarek described some of them as irrational and insisted the investigators would not waste time chasing the wildest claims.
Since emerging from a 14-day hotel quarantine last week, the WHO experts have visited a number of high-profile sites linked to the pandemic origins, including a seafood market where people were first found falling ill.
The trip on Wednesday to the Wuhan Institute of Virology was one of the highest-profile events on the agenda because of the controversial theory it was the source of the pandemic.
Scientists at the laboratory conduct research on some of the world’s most dangerous diseases, including strains of bat coronaviruses similar to Covid-19.
Speculation emerged early in the pandemic that the virus could have accidentally leaked from the lab in Wuhan, although there was no evidence to back up that theory.
Then-US president Donald Trump and his supporters seized on those rumours and amplified them with conspiracy theories that China deliberately leaked the virus.
No ‘chasing ghosts’
Ben Embarek said discussions at the lab were useful to understand the staff’s position “in regards to many of these statements and claims that everyone has seen and read about in the news”.
He appeared to dismiss some of the theories, calling much of the speculation “excellent scenarios for good movies and series for the years to come”.
He also emphasised the WHO investigators would “follow science and we follow facts” in reaching their conclusions.
“If we start following and chasing ghosts here and there, we’ll never move anywhere,” he told AFP.
“So that’s also an important step that we were also able to understand where these stories are coming from.
“And we are able to, in a rational way… explain why some of them are totally irrational, why some of them could make sense, and why some of them can be explained or not explained,” he said.
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