China rejects WHO study plan


BEIJING: China has rejected a World Health Organisation (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 top health official said.

The WHO this month proposed a second phase of studies into the origins of the coronavirus in China, including audits of laboratories and markets in Wuhan city, calling for transparency from authorities.

“We will not accept such an origins-tracing plan as it, in some aspects, disregards common sense and defies science,” Zeng Yixin, vice-minister of the National Health Commission, said yesterday.

He said the plan had listed the hypothesis that China had violated lab regulations and leaked the virus as one of the major research objectives, and he was “very shocked” after reading the proposal.

Zeng said Chinese experts had voiced their concerns and suggestions for improving the investigation plan to the WHO.

“We hope the WHO can carefully consider the advice by Chinese scientists, take investigating the origin of the Covid-19 virus as a scientific question free from political interference, and proactively and properly conduct sustained investigations into the origin of the virus in various countries across the world,” he said.

He reiterated China’s position that some data could not be completely shared due to privacy concerns.The origin of the virus remains contested among experts.

The first known cases emerged in Wuhan in December 2019. The virus was believed to have jumped to humans from animals being sold for food at a city market.

In May, US President Joe Biden ordered aides to find answers to questions over the origin, saying that US intelligence agencies were pursuing rival theories potentially including the possibility of a laboratory accident in China.

Zeng, along with other officials and Chinese experts at the news conference, urged the WHO to expand origin-tracing efforts beyond China to other countries.

“We believe a lab leak is extremely unlikely and it is not necessary to invest more energy and efforts in this regard,” said Liang Wannian, the Chinese team leader on the WHO joint expert team.

More animal studies should be conducted, in particular in countries with bat populations, he said.

Liang said the lab leak hypothesis could not be entirely discounted but suggested that if evidence warranted, other countries could look into the possibility that it had leaked from their labs. — Agencies

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