China shoots down second WHO probe into origin of Covid-19 virus

Published on Aug 13, 2021 12:40 PM IST

Beijing said it supports scientific over political efforts to find out how the disease started. Also, the proposal was made without full consultation with member states, a senior Chinese diplomat said

A medical worker takes a swab sample from a person in a gym during a round of Covid-19 testing in Wuhan in China's Hubei province on August 5, 2021. (AP/File)
A medical worker takes a swab sample from a person in a gym during a round of Covid-19 testing in Wuhan in China's Hubei province on August 5, 2021. (AP/File)
BySutirtho Patranobis

China on Friday dismissed the World Health Organization’s (WHO) calls for a renewed probe into the origin of the Covid-19 virus, saying it supported scientific over political efforts to find out how the disease started.

The proposal was also made without full consultation with member states, a senior Chinese diplomat said.

“We oppose political tracing... and abandoning the joint report”, which was issued after a WHO expert team visited Wuhan in January, vice foreign minister Ma Zhaoxu told reporters. “We support scientific tracing,” Ma added.

The Covid-19 virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 before spreading in and outside China, triggering the worst pandemic in a century.

The pandemic has so far claimed more than 4.3 million lives and infected over 205.3 million people, according to the US-based Johns Hopkins University’s widely followed coronavirus tracker.

In a briefing with 31 representatives and ambassadors from 29 countries in Beijing, Ma said that recently the WHO secretariat came up with the working proposal for the next phase without fully consulting with its member countries, which has been rejected and doubted.

Ma added that Beijing was always ready to cooperate in tracing Covid-19’s origin and had never rejected cooperation. But China rejects the politicisation of the probe, Chinese state media quoted Ma as saying.

Quoting Ma, news agency Xinhua reported that China is continuing to conduct “follow-up and supplementary” research into Covid-19’s origin as specified in the WHO joint report.

In terms of the next-phase of the Covid-19 origin-tracing work, it should be only done by scientists to find zoonotic origins and transmission pathways, Ma said.

The WHO on Thursday urged all governments to cooperate to accelerate studies into the origin of the pandemic and “to depoliticise the situation”.

Last month, Ma had told Chinese state media that 48 countries had submitted a joint letter to the WHO director-general on the origin of the Covid-19 virus.

“In the letter, they welcome the report of the WHO-convened global study of origins of Sars-CoV-2: China Part, stress that the study of origins is a matter of science and oppose politicisation of this issue,” Ma had said.

Blaming the US for trying to smear China over the probe into Covid-19’s origin, he had said that a few forces led by the United States ran counter to science regardless of the facts.

“Facts prove again that the political manipulation by use of origin-tracing violates human conscience, and it is immoral and unpopular. The rock they are lifting will end up hitting their own toes,” he said.

In June, China had angrily rejected the WHO’s plan for the second phase of the Covid-19 origin study, saying it is “shocked” by the proposal as it contains language that does not respect science.

Beijing’s angry reaction came after WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in June that it was premature to rule out a potential link between the Covid-19 pandemic and a laboratory leak, adding that he had asked China to be more transparent as scientists search for the origin of the coronavirus.

China has voiced strong opposition against international opinion, which says a high-security bio lab in Wuhan was the source of the virus.

National health commission (NHC) vice minister Zeng Yixin told reporters in June that the WHO’s second planned probe had listed the hypothesis that China had violated lab regulations and leaked the virus as one of the major research objectives, and he was “very shocked” after reading the proposal.

Zeng said China cannot accept the current version of the WHO plan because it has been compromised by political manipulation and disrespects scientific facts.

“We hope the WHO can carefully consider the advice by Chinese scientists, take investigating the origin of the Covid-19 virus as a scientific question free from political interference, and proactively and properly conduct sustained investigations into the origin of the virus in various countries across the world,” he said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sutirtho Patranobis has been in Beijing since 2012, as Hindustan Times’ China correspondent. He was previously posted in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he covered the final phase of the civil war and its aftermath. Patranobis covered several beats including health and national politics in Delhi before being posted abroad.

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