BEIJING (AP) – China cannot accept the World Health Organization’s plan for the second phase of a study on the origins of COVID-19, a senior Chinese health official said Thursday.
Zeng Yixin, vice minister of the National Health Commission, said he was “quite baffled” by the call to delve into the origins of the pandemic and specifically, the theory that the virus could have leaked from a Chinese laboratory.
He dismissed the theory of the laboratory leak as a rumor that goes against common sense and science.
“It is impossible for us to accept such an origin tracing plan,” he said at a press conference called to address the issue of the origins of COVID-19.
The search for the origin of the virus has become a diplomatic issue that has worked for China’s relations with the United States and many of its allies. The United States and others say China has not been transparent about what happened in the early days of the pandemic. China accuses critics of politicizing an issue that should be left to scientists.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, acknowledged last week that it was premature to rule out a possible link between the pandemic and a leak from a Chinese government laboratory in Wuhan, the city where the disease was first detected in late 2019. .
Tedros said he looked forward to better cooperation and access to data from China, adding that gaining access to the raw data had been a challenge for the team of international experts who traveled to China this year to investigate the cause of the outbreak.
He also says there was a “premature push” to dismiss the theory that the coronavirus could have escaped from a Chinese government laboratory in Wuhan.
“I was a laboratory technician myself, I am an immunologist and I have worked in the laboratory, and laboratory accidents happen,” said Tedros.
Tedros’s words were echoed by German Health Minister Jens Spahn, who urged Chinese officials to allow the investigation into the origins of the virus to continue.
He noted that a WHO-coordinated team of international experts who visited the laboratory earlier this year concluded that a leak in the laboratory was highly unlikely.
The team claimed that the virus likely jumped from animals to humans, with speculation centered that it originated in bats, which may have passed it on to pangolins that were traditionally sold in Chinese wet markets as a delicacy.
The highly politicized debate centers on whether a lab leak is so unlikely that the theory should be dismissed as a possibility, or merits further study.
Zeng also said that reports that staff and graduate students from the Wuhan Institute of Virology had become ill with the virus and may have passed it on to others were false.
He said China “has always supported scientific virus tracking” and wants that to spread to various countries and regions of the world.
“However, we are opposed to politicizing tracing work,” Zeng said.
The second phase of the virus tracing should be based on the findings of the first phase after “full discussion and consultation by member states,” Zeng said.
China has frequently tried to deflect allegations that the pandemic originated in Wuhan and was allowed to spread by early bureaucratic missteps and a cover-up attempt.
Government spokesmen have called for an investigation into whether it could have been produced in a US military laboratory, a theory that is not widespread in the scientific community.
China has largely ended local transmission of the virus through shutdowns, masking requirements, and the distribution of more than 1 billion doses of vaccine.
Only 12 new local cases were reported on Thursday and the death toll in China from the virus remains unchanged at 4,636.
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