China rejected on Thursday a World Health Organization (WHO) proposal for a second phase investigation into the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic which includes audits of laboratories and markets in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the first cases of the deadly coronavirus were detected in December 2019.
The virus is believed to have jumped to humans from live animals being sold for meat at the Wuhan market.
"We will not accept such an origins-tracing plan as it, in some aspects, disregards common sense and defies science," Zeng Yixin, vice minister of the National Health Commission (NHC), said at a press conference.
Zeng said he was taken aback when he first read the WHO plan because it lists the hypothesis that a Chinese violation of laboratory protocols had caused the virus to leak during research.
"We hope the WHO would seriously review the considerations and suggestions made by Chinese experts and truly treat the origin tracing of the COVID-19 virus as a scientific matter, and get rid of political interference," Reuters cited Zeng as saying.
The WHO chief had said last week that investigations into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in China were being hampered by the lack of raw data on the first days of its spread in Wuhan.
"We owe it to the millions who suffered and the millions who died to know what happened," he said.
"Finding the origins of this virus is a scientific exercise that must be kept free from politics. For that to happen, we expect China to support this next phase of the scientific process by sharing all relevant data in a spirit of transparency," Tedros said.
Phase two work would require studies of humans, wildlife and animal markets in Wuhan, including Huanan wholesale market. It would also require audits of relevant laboratories and research institutions operating in the area of the initial human cases identified in December 2019," Tedros said.
The WHO team’s earlier report on the origins of coronavirus co-authored with China in March this year had come under severe criticism from several countries as members of the team had revealed that they had largely been confined to their hotel during the visit and were not allowed to make their own enquiries.
Chinese authorities refused to provide World Health Organization investigators with raw, personalized data on early Covid-19 cases that could help them determine how and when the coronavirus first began to spread in China, The Wall Street Journal had reported citing WHO investigators.
There were “heated exchanges” during the visit between WHO and Chinese officials over the “lack of detail.”
In May, U.S. President Joe Biden had asked U.S. intelligence agencies which had gathered some evidence backing the possibility of a laboratory accident in Wuhan that could have led to the virus escaping.
However, Zeng, on Thursday side-tracked the issue with sheer rhetoric, blaming other countries instead. He urged the WHO to expand origin-tracing efforts beyond China to other countries.
"We believe a lab leak is extremely unlikely and it is not necessary to invest more energy and efforts in this regard," said Liang Wannian, the Chinese team leader on the WHO joint expert team.