World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Fabrice Coffrini / AFP via Getty Images

The WHO chief appeared to shift his stance on the likelihood that the coronavirus leaked from a lab.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday: “Lab accidents happen. It’s common.”

WHO had said it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus escaped from a Chinese laboratory.

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The head of the World Health Organization said there’d been a “premature push” to dismiss the theory that the coronavirus leaked from a laboratory, adding that “lab accidents happen.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, appeared to row back on previous comments made by his organization.

In February it largely dismissed the possibility that the coronavirus may have leaked from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, a theory that has since regained some traction despite remaining unproven.

“I was a lab technician myself, I’m an immunologist and I have worked in the lab,” he told reporters at a press conference, footage of which was posted by France24.

“And lab accidents happen. It’s common. I have seen it happening and I have myself made errors – so it can happen.”

The possible link between a laboratory and the origin of the coronavirus pandemic had been heavily pushed by former US President Donald Trump and other members of his administration last year, and was widely dismissed by experts.

But the idea has regained some currency in recent months, though China’s government has continued to dismiss the theory.

It gained greater credibility after President Joe Biden in May announced that he had asked intelligence officials to conduct a three-month review into theories about the origins of the virus. As part of that investigation, they will explore whether it was the result of an accident in a Chinese laboratory.

The WHO in January completed a month-long investigation to China – where the first cases were recorded – to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

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The organization subsequently said it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus had leaked from the Wuhan virus laboratory and concluded that the virus most likely jumped from bats to people via an intermediary animal.

But an international group of 18 scientists in May pushed back on those claims and said the WHO had not given the laboratory leak theory “balanced consideration” during its investigation.

It said the theory remained “viable” and noted that only four pages of the WHO’s 313-page report had discussed a possible laboratory accident that resulted in the virus escaping.

Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO scientist, in February said the organization would not be investigating the laboratory leak hypothesis further, though Tedros’s comments appeared to suggest otherwise.

He called on China to be more “transparent, open and [to] cooperate” in sharing raw data which the WHO had requested in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

He said, per France24: “We need information, direct information on what the situation of this lab was before and at the start of the pandemic.

“If we get full information, we can exclude” the laboratory theory, he said.

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