China has said it will not accept the World Health Organization’s plan for a second round of investigation into how coronavirus started, placing hurdles on global efforts to determine the source of the pandemic.
Deputy Head of China’s National Health Commission, Zeng Yixin faulted WHO saying the UN agency’s work plan did not respect science.
“To be honest, when I first saw the WHO’s second-phase traceability plan, I was very surprised, because in this plan, the hypothesis of ‘China’s violation of laboratory procedures causing virus leakage’ is one of the research priorities,” he said.
He added that “from this point, I can feel the disrespect for common sense and the arrogant attitude toward science revealed in this plan,” therefore it was “impossible” for China to okay the proposal.
The joint WHO-China report on the coronavirus origin published in March noted that the pandemic probably began naturally while terming the possibility of a lab leak as the origin “extremely unlikely.”
This position was, however, challenged by many scientists including by the WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus.
Last week, Dr Tedros announced a five-part plan for follow-up research on the origin of Covid-19 which as so far claimed millions of lives.
Health experts have been calling for a deeper study in geographical areas with early outbreaks, the Wuhan animal markets, and audits of research labs near where the first cases emerged.
The WHO boss also criticized China’s cooperation, saying the government did not share “raw data” with WHO team that visited Wuhan earlier this year.
At a news conference, Liang Wannian, head of the Chinese experts in the WHO-China team, acknowledged certain patient data was not shared owing to China’s patient privacy law.
“Just to protect the privacy of patients, we did not agree to provide original data, nor did we allow them to copy it or take photos,” Liang said. “At that time, the international experts also fully understood this. They believed that this was an international practice, not only in China.”
The WHO-China coronavirus origin-tracing efforts have come under criticism from scientists for being slow, incomplete, politicized, and with inaccurate and limited data.
In May, US President Biden ordered his country’s intelligence units to “redouble their efforts” to trace the coronavirus origin in three months.
Earlier, Beijing held that coronavirus was brought to China from overseas on frozen food packaging. This theory was, however, dismissed by scientists outside of China due to the genetic similarity of SARS-CoV-2 to viruses previously found in bats in the Asian country.
However, Liang said China believed animal tracing should be the key direction for follow-up studies, and that it should encompass bats and other animals.