‘Shocked’ China vetoes WHO proposal for second probe into COVID origin

WHO chief seeks Beijing’s cooperation, wants access to raw patient data; proposal is political, hits back China

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In an earlier probe, WHO investigators had concluded that the coronavirus escaping from a laboratory in China was highly unlikely. (Representational image)

The Chinese government has rejected the terms proposed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to launch the second phase of a probe into the origins of the COVID contagion.

Zeng Yixin, the country’s deputy health minister, said the WHO proposal was a sign of “disrespect for common sense and arrogance towards science”. He was ‘shocked’ by the plan, he added.

He was responding to WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ suggestion that China cooperate with a second investigation on how the pandemic started. He had also called for audits of laboratories.

According to the BBC report, Zeng said at a press conference that the plan had political undertones and China could not accept it.

Earlier probe

In January this year, the WHO had sent an expert team to Wuhan, which has a massive virology laboratory, and from which the SAR-CoV-2 is suspected to have originated. The virus had been first detected in December 2019 in Wuhan.

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The WHO investigators concluded then that the coronavirus escaping from a laboratory was highly unlikely. Yet, the suspicious refused to die down.

In early July, Tedros suggested one more round of investigations that would include audits of science research institutions in and around Wuhan. Beijing should “be transparent, open and co-operate” with the probe team, he was quoted as saying. The team should be given access to raw patient data, which was not the case during the earlier probe, he added.

‘Impossible’, says China

At the press meet, Zeng is reported to have said it was ‘impossible’ for China to accept the WHO terms. The country had submitted its own recommendations to track the virus origins, he pointed out.

“We hope the WHO would seriously review the considerations and suggestions made by Chinese experts and truly treat the origin tracing of the COVID virus as a scientific matter, and get rid of political interference,” a Reuters report quoted Zeng as saying.

Also present at the press meet was Yuan Zhiming, director of the National Biosafety Laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Yuan insisted the virus was of natural origin. No virus leak or staff infections had occurred at the lab since its inception in 2018, he added.

In early 2021, US President Joe Biden directed American intelligence officials to ‘redouble’ their investigative efforts into the pandemic, recalled the BBC report. His predecessor Donald Trump had openly accused China of being the cause of the pandemic.