China rejects WHO terms to delve into coronavirus origins

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Wu Hong / EPA

Zeng Yixin, deputy minister of the National Health Commission, dismissed the theory that there was an accident and the escape of the coronavirus from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

China said the second phase of the investigation into the origin of covid-19 is “unacceptable”, after the World Health Organization (WHO) has not discarded the theory of a leak from a laboratory.

National Health Commission Deputy Minister Zeng Yixin dismissed the theory that there was an accident and the escape of the coronavirus from the Wuhan Institute of Virology as “rumor that goes against common sense.”

It is impossible for us to accept this plan to detect the origin of the virus”, he said, at a press conference called to address the origin of Covid-19.

Zeng said he was “quite surprised” with the WHO request to delve into the origins of the pandemic and specifically the theory that the virus may have come out of a Chinese laboratory.

WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged last week that he was “premature” to rule out a possible call between the pandemic and a coronavirus breakout from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Investigating the origin of the virus has become a diplomatic issue that has contributed to deteriorating relations between China and the United States and many of its allies.

The United States and other countries say that China was not transparent in the first weeks of the pandemic. Beijing accuses critics of politicizing an issue that should be left to scientists.

The first cases of covid-19 were diagnosed in Wuhan in late 2019. The city’s virology institute is one of China’s leading laboratories that stores and studies coronaviruses.

Zeng noted that a WHO-coordinated team of international experts who visited the laboratory earlier this year concluded that a leak was highly unlikely.

Most experts believe the virus has probably passed to humans. from animals. The highly politicized debate questions whether an escape from the laboratory is so unlikely that it deserves to be dismissed as a possibility.

Tedros said he hoped for better cooperation and access to China’s data, adding that gaining access to raw data was a challenge for the international team of experts who traveled to China this year to investigate the cause of the outbreak.

“I was also a laboratory technician, I am an immunologist and I worked in a laboratory, and laboratory accidents happen“, he described.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn also asked the Chinese authorities to allow further investigation into the origins of the virus.

Zeng said that reports that staff and graduate students at the Wuhan Institute of Virology became ill with the virus and may have passed it on to others is not true.

A China “always supported scientific virus tracking” and wants this to extend to several countries and regions around the world, he defended. “However, we are against the politicization of investigative work,” he added.

The second phase should build on the conclusions of the first phase, after “extensive discussion and consultation by member states,” Zeng said.

China has often sought to deflect accusations that the pandemic originated in Wuhan and was powered by bureaucratic errors initials and an attempted cover-up.

Government spokespersons even called for an investigation into whether the coronavirus could have been produced in a US military laboratory, a theory that is not widely accepted by the scientific community.

The Asian country practically extinguished the virus within its territory, through strict containment measures.