BEIJING (AP) – China cannot agree to the World Health Organization’s plan for the second phase of a study into the origins of COVID-19, a senior Chinese health official said on Thursday.
Zeng Yixin, deputy minister of the National Health Commission, said he was “rather surprised” by the call to delve deeper into the origins of the pandemic and more specifically, the theory that the virus may have leaked out. ‘a Chinese laboratory.
He dismissed the laboratory leak theory as a rumor that flies in the face of common sense and science.
“It is impossible for us to accept such an original research plan,” he said at a press conference called to address the problem of the origins of COVID-19.
Tracing the origins of the virus has become a diplomatic problem that has worsened 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 at the start of the pandemic. China accuses critics of politicizing an issue that should be left to scientists.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, admitted last week that it was premature to rule out a potential link between the pandemic and a leak from a Chinese government laboratory in Wuhan, the city where the disease has spread. was detected for the first time at the end of 2019.
Tedros said he hoped for better cooperation and better access to data from China, adding that accessing raw data had been a challenge for the team of international experts who visited China this year to investigate the cause of the outbreak.
He also says there had been a “premature push” to dismiss the theory that the coronavirus may have escaped from a Chinese government laboratory in Wuhan.
“I myself was a lab technician, I am an immunologist and I worked in the lab, and lab accidents do happen,” Tedros said.
Tedros’ words were echoed by German Health Minister Jens Spahn, who urged Chinese authorities to allow the investigation into the origins of the virus to continue.
Zeng said the Wuhan lab has no viruses that can directly infect humans.
He noted that a team of international experts coordinated by WHO who visited the lab earlier this year concluded that a lab leak was highly unlikely.
The team said the virus most likely passed from animals to humans, with speculation focusing on its origin in bats, which may have passed it on to pangolins 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 ruled out as a possibility, or whether it deserves further study.
Zeng also said reports that staff and graduate students at the Wuhan Institute of Virology got sick with the virus and could have passed it on to others was false.
He said China had “always supported scientific tracing of viruses” and wanted it to extend to several countries and regions around the world.
“However, we are opposed to the politicization of tracing work,” Zeng said.
The second phase of virus tracing is expected to be based on the findings of the first phase after “full discussion and consultation by member states,” Zeng said.
China has frequently sought to deflect accusations that the pandemic originated in Wuhan and was allowed to spread through early bureaucratic faux pas and attempted cover-up.
Government spokespersons have called for an investigation into whether it could have been produced in a US military laboratory, a theory that is not widely used in the scientific community.
China has largely ended local transmission of the virus through containment measures, masking requirements and the distribution of more than a billion doses of the vaccine.
Only 12 new local cases were reported Thursday and the death toll from the virus in China remains unchanged at 4,636.