China opposes second WHO probe on Covid origins

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A senior official with China’s leading health authority on Thursday rejected the World Health Organization’s (WHO) proposed plan to conduct a second investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, stating he was “surprised” that it included probing the theory that coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) escaped from a virology lab.

Zeng Yixin, deputy minister of the National Health Commission, accused the WHO during a press conference Thursday of “arrogance” for considering the lab leak theory.

“This phase 2 study of origin tracing is both disrespectful to common sense and contrary to science in some aspect,” he said. “There is no way that we accept such an origin tracing study proposal.”

The once-considered conspiracy theory that Covid-19 leaked from a virology lab in the central Chinese city of Wuhan where the virus was first detected in late 2019 has regained attention in recent months, especially following the completion of the WHO’s first investigation into the Asian nation’s outbreak.

In late March, a joint WHO-China team of experts produced the long-awaited report, stating the virus likely came not from a wet Wuhan market but from wildlife farms in Southeast Asia. The report also dismissed the lab leak theory as “an extremely unlikely pathway.”

The report, however, came under swift and widespread criticism from the United States, the European Union and more than a dozen nations calling for a second probe after WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told member states that he doesn’t believe that “this assessment was extensive enough” as China did not permit full access to pertinent data.

Scientists have called for an investigation into lab leak theory as there wasn’t enough evidence to rule out that the virus didn’t escape through a laboratory accident. U.S. President Joe Biden has also directed his intelligence agencies to investigate the origins of the virus and joined the other leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) in calling for a new probe.

On Friday, Tedros announced that WHO member states had received a proposed plan for a second study designed to prob five areas, including “audits of relevant laboratories and research institutions operating in the area of the initial human cases identified in December 2019.”

Tedros had told reporters the day before that the first probe produced progress but the team was not provided access to raw data concerning the start of the pandemic.

“We have designed the second phase of the study and we are asking China to be transparent, open and cooperate on the information raw data that we asked for in the early days of the pandemic,” he said.

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