With the second wave of the pandemic surging furiously in different parts of the world, the Director-General of the World Health Organization has deviated from his conventional stance of echoing the perception of powerful member nations.
Unlike in 2020, when Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus would often speak in defence of China, to the extent of being accused of having danced to Beijing’s tune, his presentation on Thursday is significant not the least because he has urged China to furnish raw data on the origins of the verily catastrophic pandemic.
The “raw data”, he recalled, had been sought in the early stages of the pandemic. Indeed, he has urged President Xi Jinping’s government in Beijing to be “more tranparent” even as the medical fraternity has been groping in search for the origins.
“We ask China,” he said, “to be more transparent and open and to cooperate.” While he may seem to have hit the bull’s eye with his supplementary ~ “We owe it to the millions who suffered and the millions who died to know what happened” ~ there are many who will ask why the top global body under his watch was reticent for so long.
Indeed, there has been much too much of rhetoric and bickering; far too little of data embedded in medical science. For any meaningful headway, China will have to more transparent. After more than a year, there is much that is still fogbound amidst what Mr Tedros calls the “premature push” to bin the theory that the virus might have escaped from a government lab in Wuhan.
This had undermined WHO’s report in March this year, one that concluded that a laboratory leak was “extremely unlikely”. And then the home-truth ~ “I was a lab technician myself. I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen. It’s common.” That self-assessment does not answer the central question as to whether the potentially killer virus originated in the lab.
The lab theory, so to speak, has gained momentum in recent months especially after President Biden ordered a review in May of US intelligence to assess the possibility. That this hypothesis has finally reached Geneva is cause for comfort nearly as cold as the trail now must be.
Predictably, China has responded with a measure of aggressiveness, saying that the attempt to link the origins of Covid-19 to a lab are politically motivated. Arguably, the WHO chief could have been more incisive in his presentation and also, of course, his altered perception of China.
Many scientists suspect that the virus originated in bats. That said, the exact route by which it first afflicted humans is yet to be determined. Unless China cooperates, the truth will never be known. But for as long as it prevaricates, a suspicion will fester that it has something to hide.