China on Thursday said a World Health Organization (WHO) proposal that a team of experts should audit Chinese labs as part of further investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, showed “disrespect” and “arrogance towards science.”
The reaction by the Chinese government follows the proposal by the WHO Chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, last week, in which he said that a second stage of the international probe should include audits of Chinese labs, amid increasing pressure from the United States for an investigation into a biotech lab in Wuhan.
The proposal outlined by Tedros included audits of relevant laboratories and research institutions operating in the area of the initial human cases identified in December 2019, referring to the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The reaction by the Chinese government is contained in a statement made by China’s vice health minister, Zeng Yixin, while speaking at a news conference on Thursday, saying that he was “extremely surprised” by the plan, which he said showed “disrespect for common sense and arrogance towards science.”
What the Chinese Government is saying
While rejecting the proposal by the WHO, the Chinese government said that researchers should instead prioritize the very likely possibility that the virus originated in animals and expand their work to other countries around the world.
The Director of the National Biosafety Laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Yuan Zhiming, said at Thursday’s press conference that no pathogen leakage or staff infection accidents have occurred since the lab opened in 2018.
Zeng hit back at what he called “rumours” about the lab, insisting that it had “never carried out gain-of-function research on coronaviruses, nor is there a so-called manmade virus.”
His comments were in reference to the type of research that has featured heavily in theories about a possible lab leak.
What you should know
China has been under pressure and had been heavily criticized over its initial handling of the Covid-19 outbreak with the conspiracy theory that the pandemic may have emerged from a lab leak, an idea that Beijing has vehemently rejected.
China has repeatedly insisted that a leak would have been “extremely unlikely,” citing the conclusion reached by a joint WHO-Chinese mission to Wuhan in January.
The WHO was heavily criticized by the former US President, Donald Trump, and accused of colluding with the Chinese Government to suppress information about the Covid-19 pandemic, which first emanated from the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The WHO was only able to send a team of independent, international experts to Wuhan in January, more than a year after Covid-19 first surfaced there, to help Chinese counterparts probe the pandemic’s origins.
The UN health agency has been under intense pressure for a new, more in-depth investigation of how the disease that has killed more than four million people around the world first emerged.
China has in recent days faced accusations from the WHO that it had not shared the necessary raw data during the first phase of the investigation, with Tedros urging Beijing to “be transparent, to be open and cooperate” on a second phase.