China cannot accept the WHO’s plan for the second phase of a study into the origins of COVID-19, a senior Chinese health official said yesterday.
Chinese National Health Commission Vice Minister Zeng Yixin (曾益新) said he was “rather taken aback” that the plan includes further investigation of the theory that the virus might have leaked from a Chinese laboratory.
He dismissed the lab leak idea as a rumor that runs counter to common sense and science.
“It is impossible for us to accept such an origin-tracing plan,” he said at a news conference called to address the COVID-19 origins issue.
The search for where the virus came from has become a diplomatic issue. The US and others say that China has not been transparent about what happened in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. China accuses critics of seeking to blame it for the pandemic and politicizing an issue that should be left to scientists.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week said that there had been a “premature push” after the first phase of the study to rule out the theory that the virus might have escaped from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan, the city where the disease was first detected in late 2019.
Most experts do not think a lab leak is the likely cause. The question is whether the possibility is so remote that it should be dropped, or whether it merits further study.
The first phase was conducted earlier this year by an international team of scientists who traveled to Wuhan to work with their Chinese counterparts. The team was accused of bowing to demands from the Chinese side after it initially indicated that further study was not necessary.
Zeng said the Wuhan lab has no virus that can directly infect humans and that the WHO team concluded that a lab leak was highly unlikely.
The WHO team concluded that the virus most likely jumped from animals to humans, probably from bats to an intermediate animal. The experts visited markets in Wuhan that had sold live animals, and recommended further study of the farms that supplied the market.
“In the next step, I think animal tracing should still be the priority direction. It is the most valuable field for our efforts,” said Liang Wannian (梁萬年), who headed the Chinese side.
Tedros said last week that he hoped for better cooperation and access to data from China.
“We are asking China to be transparent, open and cooperate, especially on the information, raw data that we asked for in the early days of the pandemic,” he said.
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