The Wall Street Journal reports that Ben Embarek’s remarks represent the most significant departure by a member of the WHO’s team from the conclusions expressed in their initial report (some of which he said to camera as linked to below in comments that may well now cause him some embarrassment).
In the interview with Danish TV for “the Virus Mystery” documentary, Ben Embarek said that a lab run by the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention – not the Wuhan Institute of Virology which has hitherto been the focus – relocated on 2 December 2019.
“We know that when you move a lab, it disturbs everything … That entire procedure is always a disruptive element in the daily work routine of a lab,” he said.
However, the WHO’s original joint report said: “The Wuhan CDC lab which moved on 2nd December 2019 reported no disruptions or incidents caused by the move. They also reported no storage nor laboratory activities on CoVs [coronaviruses] or other bat viruses preceding the outbreak.”
The WSJ reports that the lab is classified at a lower safety level where air ventilation controls are not stringent, and researchers do not necessarily wear masks.
The WHO-led report said the Wuhan CDC lab tested all of its staff for Covid-19 antibodies, it told the organisation in February. One tested positive “due to family cluster transmission.” All others tested negative.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Ben Embarek’s cooperation with the documentary filmmakers was extensive, even filming his trip to China on his phone to provide a behind-the-scenes view of the tightly-guarded visit.
“The politics was always in the room with us on the other side of the table,” he told Science Magazine during an interview published in February.
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These startling developments come after the US earlier this year said it would resume funding for the World Health Organization after the Trump administration pulled back from the organisation.
“I am honoured to announce that the US will remain a member of the WHO,” Dr Anthony Fauci said in January. The Associated Press reports that it was the first public statement by a member of the incoming Biden administration to an international audience.
Just hours after Biden’s inauguration, Fauci wrote a letter to UN secretary-general Antonio Gutteres saying the US had reversed the planned pullout from the WHO that was expected to take effect in July.
AP reports that the US, long its biggest donor, had halted funding for the UN health agency — stripping it of cash, pulling back staff and sitting out from the vaccine sharing plan Covax as the WHO faced perhaps its biggest ever challenge.
Danish health minister Magnus Heunicke wrote on Facebook: “This is going to have a huge impact on the world’s ability to fight the pandemic. It is decisive that the US is involved as a driving force and not a country that is looking for the exit when a global catastrophe rages.”
While vowing US support, Fauci in January pointed to some key challenges facing the WHO. He said the US was committed to “transparency, including those events surrounding the early days of the pandemic.”
One of the Trump administration’s biggest criticisms was that the WHO reacted too slowly to the outbreak in Wuhan, China, and was too accepting of and too effusive about the Chinese government’s response to it, the AP reports.