The World Health Organization is pushing back against evidence-free claims by U.S. President Donald Trump and other top White House officials that the coronavirus emerged from a government research laboratory in Wuhan, China, the original epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“From our perspective, this remains speculative,” Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies director told reporters in Geneva on Monday. “We have not received any data or specific evidence from the U.S. government relating to the purported origin of the virus.”
“If that data and evidence is available, then it will be for the United States government to decide whether and when it can be shared, but it is difficult for the WHO to operate in an information vacuum in that regard.”
—Dr. Michael Ryan, World Health Organization
Ryan said WHO “would be very willing to receive any information” that purports to demonstrate the origin of the coronavirus, saying it would be a “very important piece of public health information for future control.”
“If that data and evidence is available, then it will be for the United States government to decide whether and when it can be shared,” said Ryan, “but it is difficult for the WHO to operate in an information vacuum in that regard.”
Ryan’s comments came after U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo claimed in an ABC interview Sunday that there is “enormous evidence” showing the virus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Pompeo did not elaborate on the supposed evidence behind his claim and blatantly contradicted himself later in the interview when pressed by ABC‘s Martha Raddatz.
“The best experts so far seem to think it was man-made. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point,” Pompeo said.
Asked moments later about a report released last week by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence that expressed agreement with the “wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified,” Pompeo said he has “no reason to doubt that that is accurate at this point.”
RADDATZ: Do you believe coronavirus was man-made?
POMPEO: The best experts seem to think so
R: But the DNI says the consensus is it wasn’t
P: That’s right. I agree with that
R: So to be clear, which is it?
P: What’s important is the Communist Party could’ve prevented this pic.twitter.com/uR608JZNFE
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 3, 2020
Last week, Trump—who has repeatedly blamed the Chinese government for the COVID-19 pandemic—claimed to be aware of evidence showing that the coronavirus originated in the Wuhan lab but refused to release it to the public.
“I can’t tell you that,” Trump said during a press briefing when asked if he could elaborate on the information he claimed to have. “I’m not allowed to tell you that.”
The New York Times reported last week that senior Trump administration officials are pushing U.S. intelligence agencies to “hunt for evidence to support an unsubstantiated theory that a government laboratory in Wuhan, China, was the origin of the coronavirus outbreak.”
“Some intelligence analysts are concerned that the pressure from administration officials will distort assessments about the virus and that they could be used as a political weapon in an intensifying battle with China over a disease that has infected more than three million people across the globe,” the Times reported.
Despite the Trump administration’s intelligence sector pressure campaign and public claims on the origins of the virus, members of the Five Eyes intelligence network composed of the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom have cast doubt on the White House’s claim that the outbreak originated from the Wuhan virology lab.
“Intelligence shared among Five Eyes nations indicates it is ‘highly unlikely’ that the coronavirus outbreak was spread as a result of an accident in a laboratory,” CNN reported Monday, citing two anonymous Western intelligence officials.
“It is highly likely it was naturally occurring and that the human infection was from natural human and animal interaction,” one official said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the U.S., echoed that position Monday in an interview with National Geographic.
“If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated,” said Fauci. “Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species.”