Beijing, Aug 13: China on Friday rejected the World Health Organization’s calls for a fresh probe into the origins of Covid-19, saying it supported “scientific” over “political” efforts to find out how the virus started.
“We oppose political tracing… and abandoning the joint report,” vice foreign minister Ma Zhaoxu told reporters. “We support scientific tracing.”
The Wuhan branch of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention was handling coronaviruses “without potentially having the same level of expertise or safety or who knows,” Peter Ben Embarek said during a conference call in January, according to footage shown by TV2.
Ben Embarek is a WHO expert on disease transmission from animals to humans and one of the team’s leaders. But months later, when WHO released its dense report on its mission to Wuhan, the U.N. health agency concluded that a leak of the virus from the lab was “extremely unlikely” to have caused COVID-19.
The WHO report even lent credence to a fringe theory promoted by the Chinese government that the virus may have been spread via frozen seafood packaging. In recent weeks, however, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has acknowledged it was ” premature ” to rule out a possible lab leak as the source of COVID-19, saying last month that he was asking China to be more transparent about the early days of the pandemic.
In recent months, the idea that the pandemic started somehow in a laboratory and perhaps involved an engineered virus has gained traction, especially with President Joe Biden ordering a review of US intelligence to assess the possibility in May.
China has struck back aggressively, arguing that attempts to link the origins of Covid-19 to a lab were politically motivated and suggesting that the virus might have started abroad. At WHO’s annual meeting of health ministers in the spring, China said that the future search for Covid-19’s origins should continue in other countries.
Most scientists suspect that the coronavirus originated in bats, but the exact route by which it first jumped into people — via an intermediary animal or in some other way — has not yet been determined. It typically takes decades to narrow down the natural source of an animal virus like Ebola or SARS.