Takeaways from the WHO investigation — frozen-food imports are a target

Foreign Affairs

The WHO went to Wuhan, and Beijing is happy.

Peter Ben Embarek, a member of the WHO team tasked with investigating the origins of COVID-19, speaks at a news conference at a hotel in Wuhan, China on February 9, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song

The World Health Organization has delivered the preliminary results of its investigation into the origins of COVID-19, after a team of 14 scientists spent the last 12 days in Wuhan. 

Their visit was tightly managed, and there were delays in approving visas for members of the team. But once in China, they visited laboratories, disease-control centers and live-animal markets, and made statements that they had been free to ask any questions or to visit any locations. Per the Guardian, at a press conference, the WHO team: 

  • Dismissed the theory that COVID-19 emerged from a Chinese lab.
  • Did not dismiss the Chinese government’s favorite theory that the coronavirus spread via frozen food packaging (which could have been imported). 
  • Said the virus may well have spread from an animal (likely bats or pangolins) to a human via an intermediary animal, but the pathway and animals involved are not known. 

The WHO experts “delivered praise for Chinese officials and endorsed critical parts of their narrative,” was the New York Times’ takeaway from the WHO press conference, noting that the frozen food transmission theory is “an idea that has gained little traction with scientists outside China.”