By Joel Gehrke

The United States and 13 allies questioned the credibility of the World Health Organization’s new report on the coronavirus pandemic, challenging China’s transparency about the origins of contagion.

China restricted access to information about the virus in the early days of the pandemic, stoking American suspicions that the virus might have leaked out of a government-affiliated virology lab near the city where the contagion was first detected. Chinese officials hope the WHO report will allay that allegation, but Beijing’s early success in manipulating the WHO has raised skepticism in democratic countries about the global health agency’s independence.

“We join in expressing shared concerns regarding the recent WHO-convened study in China,” the allies said in a joint statement released by Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s team. “With such an important mandate, it is equally essential that we voice our shared concerns that the international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples.”

“Scientific missions like these should be able to do their work under conditions that produce independent and objective recommendations and findings,” the allies said.

“We share these concerns not only for the benefit of learning all we can about the origins of this pandemic, but also to lay a pathway to a timely, transparent, evidence-based process for the next phase of this study as well as for the next health crises.”

The WHO-China report assesses that it is “extremely unlikely” that the virus leaked out of the nearby Wuhan Institute of Virology. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed dissatisfaction with the report and downplayed the authority of the investigation.

“I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough,” Tedros said on Tuesday at a briefing on the report. “Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation. … Let me say clearly that as far as WHO is concerned, all hypotheses remain on the table.”

A senior Chinese diplomat dismissed the “lab leak” hypothesis as one of many “lies against China” that the Chinese Foreign Ministry alleges have been told by Western officials.

“If you think about it, since the outbreak of COVID-19, how many lies and rumors and lies against China have been told by certain politicians, leaders, and lawmakers in the U.S. and Europe, including those about China’s lab leak and making of the virus?” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, before suggesting that “there is still a big question mark over” a U.S. Army lab in Maryland.

An American member of the WHO’s investigative team confirmed that the investigation into the lab leak hypothesis was limited to asking the lab officials if the contagion emerged from there and trusting them when they denied it.

Former White House deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, who worked in the White House during Donald Trump’s presidency, maintains that the Chinese military has been conducting “a body of research” at the lab that the regime has not acknowledged, including “research specifically on coronaviruses that attach to the ACE2 receptors in human lungs just like the COVID-19 virus.”

Pottinger and other Trump administration officials often rebuked Chinese officials for destroying the earliest-known virus samples rather than providing them to international health officials.

The statement released by Blinken’s team lamented the lack of such information. “It is critical for independent experts to have full access to all pertinent human, animal, and environmental data, research, and personnel involved in the early stages of the outbreak relevant to determining how this pandemic emerged,” the joint statement said.

That statement was signed by a mix of allies from around the world, with some notable absences. Three members of the Five Eye intelligence-sharing bloc — Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom — subscribed, but New Zealand did not. London’s alignment revealed a split within the three Western European heavyweights, as Germany and France did not sign the statement. Several NATO allies from the post-Soviet space joined the statement, including the three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania — Czechia, and Slovenia. Norway joined the statement, but Sweden — its Scandinavian neighbor, already embroiled in multiple disputes with China — did not.

Denmark, Israel, Japan, and South Korea also signed the document. “We will work collaboratively and with the WHO to strengthen capacity, improve the global health security, and inspire public confidence and trust in the world’s ability to detect, prepare for, and respond to future outbreaks,” they said.