China on Thursday rejected a World Health Organization (WHO) plan for a second phase of an investigation into the origin of the coronavirus, which includes the hypothesis that it could have escaped from a Chinese laboratory, a senior health official said.
The WHO proposed this month a second phase of studies on the origins of the coronavirus in China, including audits of laboratories and markets in the city of Wuhan, asking for transparency from the authorities.
“We will not accept such an origins tracing plan, as in some respects it ignores common sense and defies science,” Zeng Yixin, deputy minister of the National Health Commission (NHC), told reporters.
Zeng said he was surprised when he first read the WHO plan because it lists the hypothesis that a Chinese violation of laboratory protocols had caused the virus to leak during the investigation.
The WHO chief said in early July that investigations into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in China were being hampered by a lack of raw data on the first days of spread there.
Zeng reiterated China’s position that some data cannot be fully shared due to privacy concerns.
“We hope that the WHO will seriously review the considerations and suggestions made by the Chinese experts and really treat the tracing of the origin of the COVID-19 virus as a scientific matter and eliminate political interference,” Zeng said.
China opposed politicizing the study, he said.
The origin of the virus remains controversial among experts.
The first known cases emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. The virus is believed to have jumped to humans from animals sold for food in a city market.
In May, US President Joe Biden ordered his aides to find answers to questions about the origin, saying that US intelligence agencies were pursuing rival theories that potentially included the possibility of a laboratory accident in China. .
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that the Biden administration is “deeply disappointed” by China’s decision and told reporters that “its position is irresponsible and, frankly, dangerous.”
Zeng, along with other Chinese officials and experts at the press conference, urged the WHO to expand origin tracing efforts beyond China to other countries.
“We believe that a laboratory leak is extremely unlikely and there is no need to invest more energy and efforts in this regard,” said Liang Wannian, Chinese team leader in the WHO joint expert team. More animal studies should be done, particularly in countries with bat populations, he said.
However, Liang said that the laboratory leak hypothesis could not be completely ruled out, but suggested that if the evidence warranted it, other countries could study the possibility of it leaking from their labs.
A key part of the laboratory leak theory has centered on the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) decision to take its gene sequence and sample databases offline in 2019.
When asked about this decision, Yuan Zhiming, a professor at WIV and director of its National Biosafety Laboratory, told reporters that currently the databases are only shared internally due to concerns about cyberattacks.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)