The head of the World Health Organization has acknowledged that ruling out a possible link between the Covid-19 pandemic and a laboratory leak was premature.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has asked China to be more transparent as scientists investigate the origins of the coronavirus.

In an unusual departure from his usual deference to powerful member countries, the World Health Organization's chief said getting access to raw data had been a struggle for the international team that flew to China earlier this year to investigate the source of the virus. The first human cases were discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Tedros told reporters that the United Nations' health agency in Geneva is "asking actually China to be transparent, open and cooperate, especially on the information, raw data that we sought in the early days of the pandemic."

He said that there was a "premature push" to dismiss the possibility that the virus escaped from a Chinese government facility in Wuhan, contradicting the World Health Organization's own March report, which determined that a laboratory leak was "highly unlikely."

"I was a lab technician myself, I'm an immunologist, and I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen," Tedros said. "It's common."

In March, a WHO-led team spent four weeks in and around the central city of Wuhan with Chinese researchers, concluding in a joint report that the virus was most likely transmitted from bats to humans via another species.

Although it said that "introduction through a laboratory incident was considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway," countries such as the U.S. and some scientists were not convinced.

China has dismissed the theory that the virus escaped from a Wuhan facility as "absurd," and has repeatedly said that "politicizing" the problem will impede investigations.

"We ask China to be transparent and open and to cooperate," Tedros said.