China’s most direct pushback for probe into coronavirus origins

While China has consistently rejected the laboratory hypothesis, officials today sought to draw a line.

China has pushed against the World Health Organization’s call for another investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, including checking whether it leaked from a laboratory, saying there is no evidence for theory and that it is common sense. disregards.

The pathogen most likely originated in an animal, which transmitted it to humans through an intermediate host, a group of top Chinese science officials stressed at a briefing in Beijing on Thursday. He praised an earlier WHO report that pointed mainly to animals, while finding that the laboratory leak hypothesis was “extremely improbable”.

The Wuhan laboratory at the center of the controversy “never had the virus,” said Liang Wanian, an epidemiologist who led the team of Chinese experts working with the WHO. “We see no need to put more resources into laboratory leak testing.”

The hypothesis was once dismissed as a conspiracy theory by opponents of former US President Donald Trump, whose administration raised the possibility ahead of the 2020 election. The base later gained traction as scientists questioned China’s reluctance to provide access to the primary source material, increasing attention among some virologists to efforts to make the virus stronger, calling it “gain of action”. , and some world leaders called for a deeper investigation.

While China has consistently rejected the laboratory hypothesis, officials sought to draw a line in the sand on Thursday, indicating that Beijing would not engage on the original hunt if the theory remains at play. It was China’s most direct push so far to investigate the WHO and others at the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s high-level laboratory, which studies bat-borne pathogens and other coronaviruses.

“The plan for the second phase of the original study involves language that does not respect science or common sense,” said Zeng Yixin, deputy minister of the National Health Commission. “We will not follow such a plan.”

In May, US President Joe Biden said the US intelligence community was divided over whether the virus emerged from human contact with animals or from a laboratory accident, and asked him to “redouble their efforts” and return by the end of August. Reporting ordered. The move again raised suspicion that the virus may have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where researchers are known to study other coronaviruses.

Chinese officials said they were committed to uncovering the origins of the novel coronavirus, a case that deserves serious study and must be based on science. Zeng said the WHO’s plan to prioritize the laboratory leak hypothesis for the next phase of research has been corrupted by political posture and displays “arrogance against science”.

China has been in the crosshairs since the start of the pandemic in late 2019, after being criticized for delaying research efforts and restricting access to independent investigators. Now global leaders including the head of the WHO, the Australian government and others are calling on Beijing to cooperate in the next phase of understanding the story of the virus’s creation, which is essential to understanding what happened around the world and how to prepare for future pandemics. risk should be reduced.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in March that the global body’s first investigation did not adequately analyze the likelihood of a laboratory accident before deciding that it was most likely that the pathogen was transmitted from bats to humans in another animal. spreads through the medium. He said scientists would benefit from “full access to data,” including biological samples, from at least September 2019, and that he was ready to deploy more resources to investigate.

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