(Singapore, Feb 16, 2023) The World Health Organization is calling for more cooperation from China in its search for the origins of Covid-19.

This comes on the heels of a Tuesday report on the scientific journal Nature which says the agency shelved its investigation over a lack of collaboration.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus did acknowledge the difficulty WHO is facing in getting China’s full participation more than three years after the virus emerged. But he also said the answers are critical for scientific and moral reasons.

WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Picture: AFP

“As recently as seven weeks ago, I sent a letter to a top official in China asking for cooperation… I assure you we will continue to push and continue to pursue until we get the answer, ” Tedros said in a recent press briefing.

But China’s foreign ministry pushed back against Nature’s report.

“We always support and participate in science-based global origins-tracing. At the same time, we firmly oppose all forms of political manipulation,” China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin told a briefing in Beijing on Wednsday.

“We have received two WHO expert teams for origins study in China, and concluded a report that is science based and authoritative… We will continue such efforts and communication,” he said.

The WHO was criticized early in the pandemic for not holding China to account as the virus spread. Recently, it has been more vocal as a major omicron surge swamped China.

Last month, WHO officials urged Beijing to share more detailed information after China abandoned its testing efforts and reported comparatively few deaths even as hospitals and crematoriums were reportedly overwhelmed during its reopening.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid technical lead, said in a video posted to Twitter on Wednesday: “Let me also be very clear that we continue to ask for more cooperation and collaboration with our colleagues in China to advance studies that need to take place in China.”

“It is becoming increasingly difficult because the more time that passes, the more difficult it becomes to really understand what happened in those early stages of the pandemic.” she added.

Bloomberg reports that China has faced more questions over the transparency of its Covid data in recent weeks, posting the biggest drop in Covid deaths among more than 20 places hit hardest by the omicron variant.

In 2020, the WHO was asked to help identify the source of the virus, and conducted a weeks-long joint mission with a team of international scientists and researchers from China. The report, which was released in 2021, was criticized as incomplete by the US.

In late 2021, the WHO formed a more permanent scientific advisory group to look at the origins of the virus, along with any future outbreaks.