The Chinese government will not participate in a second phase of the World Health Organization’s investigation into the origins of Covid-19, a top health official announced Thursday, after the possibility of the virus leaking from a Wuhan lab was included on the proposal.
Zeng Yixin, deputy head of the National Health Commission, told a press conference in Beijing he had been “surprised” to see the lab leak listed as a research objective under the second phase of the investigation.
“In some aspects, the WHO’s plan for next phase of investigation of the coronavirus origin doesn’t respect common sense, and it’s against science. It’s impossible for us to accept such a plan,” he said.
Zeng also appeared to respond to US State Department claims that several workers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell sick shortly before the first documented cases of Covid-19, saying “no worker or researcher at the WIV got infected by coronavirus.”
The WHO released an initial report from its investigation into the origins of Covid-19 in March, in which it determined that the virus probably originated in an animal before spreading to human beings around December 2019.
But a growing number of Western nations, including the leaders of the G7, have questioned the thoroughness of the original report.
United States President Joe Biden has ordered US intelligence agencies to take a new look into how the Covid-19 pandemic began, noting that Western observers have yet to be granted access to key laboratories to determine “whether it was an experiment gone awry.”
Little new evidence has emerged to support the theory that the virus was the result of an accidental leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where coronavirus research was believed to have been conducted on bats, and many scientists familiar with the research say such a leak is unlikely.
However, in March, a member of the WHO team who helped oversee the original investigation said the Wuhan lab leak theory did “not receive the same depth of attention and work” as the animal hypothesis.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus joined calls for China to cooperate more fully with a new Covid-19 origins investigation on July 15, saying the first had been hampered by a lack of raw data on the early days of the pandemic.
“We ask China to be transparent and open and to cooperate,” he told a news conference. “We owe it to the millions who suffered and the millions who died to know what happened.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on July 16 the government had cooperated fully with the initial investigation and refuted allegations that researchers had been denied access to any locations or data.
“China’s position on the issue of global origin-tracing is consistent and clear. (The) origins study is a scientific issue. All parties should respect the opinions of scientists and scientific conclusions, instead of politicizing the issue,” he said.