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Coronavirus

China snubs WHO's call for second study on COVID-19 origins

Chinese participant in first probe hints other countries may have leaked virus

Zeng Yixin, vice minister of China's National Health Commission, on July 22 complained that calls by the WHO for a second probe of the origins of COVID-19 were driven by *political interference."   © Reuters

SHANGHAI -- Chinese officials on Thursday rejected a proposal by the World Health Organization for a second study to trace the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, including the possibility that the virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, calling it political and biased.

Beijing insisted that it had fully cooperated with the WHO's team of international experts dispatched to Wuhan earlier this year, and that it stood by the joint report released in March, which failed to identify the animal source of the virus or how it infected the human population.

China cannot accept the second-phase investigation by the WHO, said a top health official because the proposal was compromised by political manipulation and disrespect for scientific facts. The remark appears to be aimed at the U.S., which has called for a deeper probe.

"We hope the WHO can carefully consider the advice by Chinese scientists [and] take investigating the origin of the COVID-19 virus as a scientific question, free from political interference," Zeng Yixin, deputy head of the National Health Commission said at a live news briefing together with other top officials.

Zeng was responding to a call last week by WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus for detailed studies, including audits of laboratories and research institutions in Wuhan, where the first human infections were identified in December 2019. Among the reasons cited by the head of the WHO for the follow-up investigation was insufficient raw data.

The joint report has been questioned by experts worldwide for ruling out the possibility of virus leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which handled viruses for vaccine development.

U.S. President Joe Biden ordered officials in May to intensify their investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 by prodding China for more data. He said the U.S. was looking at two possibilities: that the virus emerged from human contact with an infected animal, or that it escaped in a laboratory accident.

Liang Wannian, the Chinese official who took part in the WHO joint study, dismissed the Wuhan lab leak theory on Thursday, saying international experts had visited the facilities at the institute and ruled them out as the origin of the virus. They also probed the Huanan Wet Market nearby, where earlier human infections were detected, but found nothing. Liang suggested that studies should be conducted in other countries using the same lab leak theory.

China also maintained that it had shared with the WHO experts clinical data on early COVID-19 patients, epidemiological studies and lab test results, but that making copies of such information was not allowed under the country's privacy rules.

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