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China rejects a second WHO probe into COVID outbreak origin

Published on 22/07/21 at 08:53am

China has rejected WHO plans for a second investigation into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, which includes the hypothesis it could have escaped from a Chinese laboratory.

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

However, Zeng Yixin, vice minister of the National Health Commission in China has told reporters: "We will not accept such an origins-tracing plan as it, in some aspects, disregards common sense and defies science.”

The head of the WHO said earlier in July that investigations into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in China were being hampered by the lack of raw data on the first days of spread there.

Zeng reiterated China's position that some data could not be completely shared due to privacy concerns. He said: "We hope the WHO would seriously review the considerations and suggestions made by Chinese experts and truly treat the origin tracing of the COVID-19 virus as a scientific matter, and get rid of political interference.”

The origin of the virus remains a hotly contested issue, with the first known cases emerging from Wuhan in December 2019. Initially, the virus was believed to have jumped to humans from animals being sold for food at a city market.

However, in a press conference Zeng and other Chinese officials urged the WHO to expand origin-tracing efforts beyond China to other countries. Liang Wannian, the Chinese team leader on the WHO joint expert team, said: "We believe a lab leak is extremely unlikely and it is not necessary to invest more energy and efforts in this regard.”

One key part of the lab leak theory has centred on the Wuhan Institute of Virology's (WIV) decision to take offline its gene sequence and sample databases in 2019.

When asked about this decision, Yuan Zhiming, professor at WIV and the director of its National Biosafety Laboratory, told reporters that at present the databases were only shared internally due to cyber attack concerns.

Kat Jenkins

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