The WHO began its investigation in January 2021, around a year after the initial outbreak, when it dispatched an international team of doctors and scientists from various disciplines to Wuhan, China. (Related: Researchers discover "synthetic fingerprint" in genome of SARS-CoV-2, proving it was created in a lab.)
This first phase of the investigation was inconclusive, as the WHO's report only spawned more questions regarding one of the leading hypotheses of the coronavirus's origins – that the virus was created by scientists tinkering with bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the modified virus escaped from there. The report was also criticized for ignoring China's refusal to hand over complete, original data and samples.
In response to these and other concerns raised regarding the first phase of the investigation, the WHO announced a plan for a more extensive second phase of study regarding COVID-19's origins. The United Nations agency promised to find and review more data non "relevant laboratories and research institutions" in Wuhan as well as data on the wild animals sold at the city's infamous live animal markets in late 2019 to better understand whether there was a chance the pandemic began with human contact with a sick animal.
More than two years since the WHO's high-profile trip to Wuhan, the organization has apparently abandoned all plans for a second phase of research.
"There is no phase two," said Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist. "The politics across the world of this really hampered progress on understanding the origins."
But according to a WHO spokesperson who spoke with Politico, the investigation has not been abandoned. The spokesperson did admit that the investigation is unable to continue because the agency needs access and data from China for knowledge on how to proceed, which the Chinese are unwilling to provide.
"We have repeatedly and publicly said that the origin needs investigating and China must provide access and info for this to happen – and if it doesn't happen, efforts to understand the origins will remain rather stymied," said spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic.
In the meantime, Jasarevic said the WHO's Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) will try to "move things along to the extent possible."
"SAGO is in fact examining any new evidence that might arise while continuing to ask China for access," said Jasarevic.
Van Kerkhove noted that WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has directly engaged with Chinese authorities and has lobbied them repeatedly to share data more openly.
"We really, really want to be able to work with our colleagues here," said Van Kerkhove. "It's really a deep frustration."
It is unlikely that Chinese authorities will budge on providing concrete data. Deputy Director of the National Health Commission Zeng Yixin claimed that the WHO's proposal for further inquiry "did not respect common sense and violated science."
Zeng also suggested that there was no such thing as a "man-made virus" at the Wuhan lab and denied allegations that the institute was ever involved in gain-of-function experiments on the coronavirus.
"It is impossible for us to accept such an origin-tracing plan," said Zeng. "We are opposed to politicizing the tracing work."
Learn more about the COVID-19 pandemic at Pandemic.news.
Watch this clip of Dr. Andrew Huff discussing the true origins of COVID-19 with Mike Adams, the Health Ranger.