Covid may not have emerged in China says WHO scientist – ‘Need to look beyond borders’

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Professor John Watson was part of the WHO team that went to China in order to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. He said the virus’ transmission from animals to humans may have happened outside of China’s borders.

Prof Watson, who is also England’s former Deputy Chief Medical Officer, told BBC’s Andrew Marr the pandemic most likely began with an infection at an “animal reservoir”.

He explained that the infection then passed onto humans through an “intermediate host”.

The WHO scientist was asked whether he was sure COVID-19 emerged in China.

Prof Watson replied “no” and added how investigators “need to ensure that we are looking beyond the borders of China, as well as within China”.

However, the WHO investigation has created some concern among the international community that fear China may not have provided the scientists with “full cooperation”.

On Friday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington had “deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the Covid-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them”.

Across the pond, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also said the UK had “concerns” over whether scientists would “get full cooperation” and “the answers they need”.

But Prof Watson told the BBC: “I think that there are all sorts of reasons to do with the way it did start in the outbreak in Wuhan and the various bits of information about the way in which these viruses live in different animal reservoirs, that suggest that China is a very, very possible source for the outbreak but by no means necessarily the place where the leap from animals to humans took place.”

He added how the WHO scientists saw a “great deal” of information about the first 174 people who contracted COVID-19 in China.

But Prof Watson did admit that the team only received a “certain amount” of the raw data.

He added: “We didn’t see all of that and we didn’t see the original questionnaires that were used.

“But apart from the fact that, of course, they would have been in Chinese, one has to think about what one would have seen if one had gone to any other country in the world.”

Prof Watson added how the scientists’ visit to China will not be a “one-off” and the WHO sees the investigation as “the start of a process that’s going to take really quite a while”.

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The WHO have said it is “extremely unlikely” that COVID-19 entered the human population through a laboratory-related incident after claims the pandemic began due to a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Mr Raab told the BBC that Britain’s Government should be “pushing” for China to provide full access to its data.

He added: “We’ll be pushing for it to have full access, get all the data it needs to be able to answer the questions that I think most people want to hear answered around the outbreak, the causes.

“And that’s important, not for geopolitical point-scoring or anything like that, but so we can learn the lessons and prevent it ever happening again.”

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