The World Health Organization team that visited China to investigate the origins of the coronavirus relied on the word of Chinese scientists during their inquiry into whether the virus was the result of a leak in a lab in Wuhan, according to an American scientist on the team.
Peter Daszak, a zoologist who runs the EcoHealth Alliance, told “60 Minutes” in an interview that the WHO team determined that the lab leak theory was “extremely unlikely,” and that the virus likely spread from an animal species to humans in China.
Leslie Stahl, the “60 Minutes” interviewer, prodded Daszak about limitations of the WHO probe. She also got Daszak to concede that officials with China’s ministry of foreign affairs closely monitored the WHO team’s meetings with Chinese scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Daszak told Stahl that the Chinese scientists the WHO team met with said they regularly audit the lab, and tested staff members after the first reports of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
“But you’re just taking their word for it,” Stahl said.
“Well, what else can we do?” Daszak replied.
“There’s a limit to what you can do and we went right up to that limit,” he continued.
“We asked them tough questions. They weren’t vetted in advance. And the answers they gave, we found to be believable– correct and convincing.”
Daszak also told Stahl that it wasn’t the WHO team’s job to find out whether the Chinese government had covered up details about the origins of the virus.
Peter Daszak, a member of the WHO-led inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 virus and expert on coronaviruses, says the team looked into the theory that the virus originated in an accidental lab leak, but deemed the theory “extremely unlikely.” https://t.co/4RhcMEZcbc pic.twitter.com/uZY3fNhPT3
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) March 28, 2021
“But weren’t the Chinese engaged in a cover-up?” the reporter asked. “They destroyed evidence, they punished scientists who were trying to give evidence on this very question of the origin.”
Daszak responded: “Well, that wasn’t our task, to find out if China had covered up the origin issue.”
Asked if that makes him wonder whether the Chinese did engage in a cover-up, Daszak responded, “We didn’t see any evidence of any false reporting or cover-up in the work that we did in China.”
While many mainstream scientists have dismissed the lab leak theory, Stahl interviewed an adviser to WHO, Jamie Metzl, who said that it is plausible that the virus spread to humans as the result of a lab accident. Metzl told Stahl that the WHO team was unable to fully investigate the origins of the virus because of restrictions imposed by the Chinese government.
“I wouldn’t really call what’s happened now an investigation. It’s essentially a highly-chaperoned, highly-curated study tour,” Metzl said of the WHO junket.
Metzl, who served on the national security council under President Bill Clinton, said that Chinese authorities had veto power over which scientists could take part in the WHO mission.
“On top of that, the WHO agreed that in most instances China would do the primary investigation,” he said.
Daszak acknowledged to Stahl that the Chinese government closely monitored the WHO team’s investigation.
“Were there Chinese government minders in the room every time you were asking questions?” Stahl asked the scientist.
“There were Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff in the room throughout our stay. Absolutely. They were there to make sure everything went smoothly from the China side,” Daszak said.
Stahl noted that Daszak has been accused of having a conflict of interest because his organization has partnered with the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Daszak responded to the charge, saying that his work with the lab made him a strong candidate for the WHO position.
“I’m on the WHO team for a reason,” he said. “And, you know, if you’re going to work in China on coronaviruses and try and understand their origins, you should involve the people who know the most about that. And for better or for worse, I do.”