The only American on a team contracted by the World Health Organization to probe the origins of the coronavirus said the group did not investigate whether China covered up evidence crucial to understanding the outbreak, in comments to CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday.
“That wasn’t our task to find out if China had covered up the origin issue,” Peter Daszak, president of the New York-based non-profit EcoHealth Alliance, told host Leslie Stahl.
Daszak said that the team looked into the theory that the coronavirus may have leaked from a laboratory, such as the Wuhan Institute of Virology or the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, but concluded it was unlikely.
Some scientists have alleged that Daszak’s presence on the investigation presents a conflict of interest. Daszak helped steer $598,000 in National Institutes of Health grants to the Wuhan Institute of Virology between 2014 and 2020, and the grants were used in part to study bat coronaviruses. Six of the 17 Western scientists on the WHO team work under Daszak at EcoHealth.
“We met with them. We said, ‘Do you audit the lab?’ And they said, ‘Annually.’ ‘Did it you audit it after the outbreak?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Was anything found?’ ‘No.’ ‘Do you test your staff?’ ‘Yes,’” Daszak told CBS.
“But you’re just taking their word for it,” Stahl interjected.
“Well, what else can we do?” Daszak responded. “There’s a limit to what you can do and we went right up to that limit. We asked them tough questions.”
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
A WHO report expected to be released on Tuesday, based on the findings of the team in which Daszak participated, dismisses the lab-leak hypothesis for the origin of the coronavirus pandemic. Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head Robert Redfield said on Friday that he believed the coronavirus “escaped” from a lab in Wuhan.