Ascertaining the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is vital in order to address the current pandemic and reduce the risk of future ones. Although we may never be able to conclusively determine the coronavirus pandemic’s origins, it is nevertheless critical that we make every possible effort to do so. That is why the WHO‘s fruitless investigation into the virus’s origins should provoke calls for transparency and accountability.

One distinct possibility is that the SARS-CoV-2 virus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a biosafety level 4 laboratory. This lab-leak hypothesis, as it is often called, should not be hastily dismissed as a conspiracy theory. It would be false and irresponsible to deny the evidence for it.

As evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein noted in January 2021, the “lab-leak hypothesis is becoming impossible to ignore.” On Twitter, Weinstein posted a video in which disease ecologist Peter Daszak, a member of the WHO team tasked with investigating the origins of SARS-CoV-2 in China, discusses the Wuhan laboratory’s “research into enhanced coronaviruses just before the pandemic.”

Dismissing the possibility that the virus originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology underestimates the ability of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to destroy evidence and make witnesses (and even their families) disappear. In China, it is common practice for the CCP to detain dissidents and human rights activists—often for multiple years, or even indefinitely—without providing any statement to the public. In 2020, China was ranked 177th out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders. Ever since the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan in early 2020, the CCP has heavily censored and forcefully suppressed information regarding the extent and spread of the coronavirus in China.

By now it is abundantly clear that the Chinese Communist Party and the World Health Organization have failed the world. Even WHO director general Tedros Adhanom, who has long been criticized for being overly deferential to Chinese authorities, recently expressed his dissatisfaction over the CCP’s grossly inadequate information sharing. Tedros noted that WHO investigators “expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing raw data” during their visit to China. In other words, Chinese authorities withheld data from the WHO during the investigators’ four-week visit to China in January and February to research the origins of the COVID-19 epidemic.

In a March 30 editorial, The Washington Post noted that “The World Health Organization’s joint investigation with China into the origins of the coronavirus looked into a dark chasm and saw darkness. The investigators did not conduct a forensic probe into the possibility of a laboratory leak…. The origins of the pandemic remain obscure. Finding the answer is as important and elusive as ever.” The Post concluded that investigating the cause of the pandemic is “essential…to make another one less likely.”

We now know that half of the members of the joint investigative team were Chinese citizens; their scientific independence is thus questionable at best. We also know that the joint team’s international members, each of whom had to be approved by China, were forced to rely on information that Chinese authorities chose to share with them. Finally, we know that the team’s report, which has now been issued after multiple delays, had to be approved by both the international and Chinese members of the joint team. Therefore, the report’s findings obviously must be taken with a grain of salt.

World Health Organization WHO China COVID origin
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has expressed dismay over Chinese officials blocking the arrival WHO investigators looking into the origins of COVID-19. In this July 3, 2020 photo, Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organized by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak.FABRICE COFFRIN / AFP/GETTY

The joint team did not have the mandate, the independence or the necessary access to carry out a full and unrestricted investigation into all the relevant SARS-CoV-2 origin hypotheses.

We will never know how much evidence about the origins of SARS-CoV-2 has already been destroyed by the CCP. But it is vital that we make every possible effort to uncover the truth. The world cannot afford an investigation into the origins of the pandemic that is anything less than absolutely thorough and credible. If we fail to fully and courageously examine the origins of this pandemic, we risk being unprepared for a similar—or potentially worse—pandemic in the future.

On March 18, Citizen Power Initiatives for China launched a petition calling on the World Health Organization to provide full transparency regarding its trip to China to investigate the origins of SARS-CoV-2. Specifically, we call on the World Health Organization to answer the following questions:

What was the complete and detailed itinerary for the investigative mission to China?

Were the itinerary and agenda freely determined by WHO investigators, or were they controlled by Chinese authorities?

When, where and with whom did the mission members meet, and what information was obtained during these meetings?

Was the mission subjected to censorship or pressure in any form?

What conclusions were reached by the mission team?

We urge readers to join us and sign the petition to demand transparency from the WHO.

Dr. Jianli Yang is founder and president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

This article first appeared in Newsweek on 4/2/21