Tedros: On second thought, we need to explore the lab-leak theory of COVID-19 origin; UPDATE: Lab move in December?

*blink blink* Say what? Just days after WHO tried to quash any discussion of alternative theories about COVID-19’s origin other than the presumed zoonotic jump, its director has thrown open the floor again.

Did someone block Xi Jinping’s texts on Tedros Gheyebresus’ phone?

For months, scientists, politicians and others outside China have promoted the theory that the virus might have emerged after a laboratory accident in China. While many experts doubt this theory, they have urged the W.H.O. team to rigorously investigate the possibility.

The report dismisses the lab leak theory outright, calling it “extremely unlikely.” The experts largely base their conclusion on conversations with scientists in Wuhan.

But Dr. Tedros, the W.H.O. chief, took the unexpected step of publicly raising doubts, saying that the theory required further investigation and that he was ready to deploy more experts to do so.

“I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough,” he said on Tuesday at a briefing for member states on the report, according to prepared remarks released to the news media. “Further data and studies will be needed to reach more robust conclusions.”

This about-face leaves a number of American media outlets twisting in the wind. Most rushed to proclaim that WHO report as a definitive and conclusory, when it was nothing of the kind. There is no firm evidence supporting a zoonotic jump; no one has found COVID-19 in either bats or pangolins yet. It is certainly a reasonable hypothesis, but the lab-leak theory is as well. Until someone conducts a thorough and independent investigation of all these hypotheses, however, none can be eliminated.

You couldn’t tell that from the rush to conclusions by US media outlets, however. This headline from CBS News is emblematic:

They didn’t “find” anything at all. The WHO team, whose members were vetted by China’s regime before being allowed to conduct this research, merely stated that they felt this hypothesis was their favorite. And small wonder, considering the implications for the Xi regime if COVID-19 indeed broke out of the laboratory.

Josh Rogin warned yesterday in the Washington Post that the WHO investigation was “fatally flawed.” That’s why former CDC director Robert Redfield insisted that the lab leak hypothesis was not just valid but potentially likely, a conclusion apparently reached by Tedros as well:

The Chinese government and the friends of the Wuhan lab want to dismiss any efforts to call for more investigation into the lab-accident theory as conspiracy theories. But that conspiracy now would have to include the Trump administration, the Biden administration, Redfield and the growing list of scientists who insist that this possibility be explored. Critics often conflate the fact there is “no proof” of the theory with the false assertion there is “no evidence” to suggest it.

“When people talk about ‘no evidence’ [of a lab accident], you could argue there’s ‘no evidence’ on either side,” said Flinders University Professor of Medicine Nikolai Petrovsky, one of more than two dozen scientists who signed an open letter calling for a full and independent investigation into the origins of covid-19. “There’s as much evidence for the potential lab leak hypothesis as there currently is for a natural animal crossover event. I think we have to be fair and say it’s a completely open question.”

The WHO team wants to move on to searching for the virus in packages of frozen food in other countries. Let them do it. Meanwhile, somebody else will have to investigate the lab-accident theory, because the WHO and Beijing have no intention of treating it with the seriousness it deserves. The Biden administration can help by releasing all the information it has on the lab now. That would help us to get closer to the truth — and help to prevent future pandemics.

This wasn’t an investigation at all. It was a misdirection from Beijing that got abetted by WHO, which has been Job One for the UN organization from the earliest days of this pandemic. That’s what makes Tedros’ statement today so stunning. Has he reached the limits of toady-ness with Xi, and if so, will Tedros force a real accounting for the origin and spread of COVID-19? Or will Xi’s calls start getting through again?

Update: Here’s a good catch by our friend Jeryl Bier, who found this nugget buried in the WHO report:

Note the statement just before the one that Jeryl highlights, and then immediately afterward:

The closest known CoV RaTG13 strain (96.2%) to SARS-CoV-2 detected in bat anal swabs have been sequenced at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. … The closest relatives of SARS-CoV-2 from bats and pangolin are evolutionarily distant from SARSCoV-2.

Doesn’t that evidence suggest a lab leak rather than a zoonotic jump?