World | Jul 23, 2021

WHO urges collaboration on virus origin after China rejects inquiry plan

/ Our Today

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

GENEVA (Reuters)

The World Health Organization (WHO) called on Friday (July 23) for all countries to work together to investigate the origins of the coronavirus that caused COVID-19, a day after China rejected plans for more checks on labs and markets in its territory.

The first human cases of COVID-19 were reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. China has repeatedly dismissed theories that the virus leaked from one of its laboratories.

The WHO this month proposed a follow-up to earlier investigations in China. But Zeng Yixin, vice minister of China’s National Health Commission, said on Thursday (July 23) Beijing would not accept the proposal as it stood.

When asked about China’s rejection, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told a United Nations briefing in Geneva: “This is not about politics, it’s not about a blame game.

World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic

“It is about basically a requirement we all have to try to understand how the pathogen came into the human population. In this sense, countries really have the responsibility to work together and to work with WHO in a spirit of partnership.”

A WHO-led team spent four weeks in and around Wuhan with Chinese scientists and said in a joint report in March that the virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal but that further research was needed.

READ: US report concluded COVID-19 may have leaked from Wuhan lab -WSJ

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said that the investigation was hampered by the lack of raw data on the first days of spread there.

Countries including the United States and some scientists have demanded further investigation, particularly into the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was conducting research into bats.

Zeng Yixin, Vice Minister of China’s National Health Commission, speaks at a press conference at the State Council Information Office in Beijing, Thursday, July 22, 2021. Zeng said Thursday he was taken aback by the World Health Organization’s plan for the second phase of a COVID-19 origins study. (Photo: Mark Schiefelbein)

Diplomats said that China immediately signalled opposition to the plan presented by Tedros at closed-door talks with member states a week ago.

“The Chinese see it as a repudiation of the joint report,” said one.

Tedros also said last week he was establishing a permanent International Scientific Advisory Group for Origins of Novel Pathogens to help advance the next phase of studies into the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

The panel, to be composed of independent experts, is aimed at helping to ease some political pressure on the WHO, diplomats said.



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