The Chinese Communist Party rejected a follow-up World Health Organization investigation into COVID-19’s origins, with government scientists condemning the plans for a second inquiry because it emphasizes the need to investigate further the possibility the virus emerged from a Wuhan lab.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said the WHO-China report “identified areas for further study” and said the WHO's secretariat had provided a circular letter to the U.N. agency’s member states laying out the so-called “phase two” investigation into how COVID-19 emerged. Tedros described five main areas for further study, with the final one being “audits of relevant laboratories and research institutions operating in the area of the initial human cases identified in December 2019.” Tedros said the day before that “there was a premature push to, you know, especially reduce one of the options, like the lab theory.”
But a panel of Chinese government scientists assembled on Thursday pushed back against Tedros in a press conference organized by the State Council Information Office and broadcast on Chinese state-run outlet CGTN.
China’s National Health Commission Vice Minister Zeng Yixin criticized further scrutiny of the Wuhan lab and called for the origins inquiry to expand into countries besides China.
“About the plan on the second phase on origin study, it contains language that does not respect science or common sense. We won’t follow such a plan,” Zeng said. “Origin study is a science matter. Chinese government supports origin study based on science, yet we oppose politicizing the origin study and believe that the second phase should be conducted on the basis of the first phase. … We hope that with full consultation with member states, early-stage case search should be conducted in multiple countries globally.”
Zeng added: “To be frank, I was rather taken aback when I learned about this. Why? Because in the plan, it set as a priority the hypothesis that China violated lab particles. This reflects disrespect for common sense and arrogance against science.”
The first WHO team's widely criticized visit to Wuhan earlier this year essentially dismissed the lab leak hypothesis as “extremely unlikely” while contending that a jump from animals to humans was most likely. The report was widely considered a failure, in part due to a lack of access to key data, Chinese influence over the investigation, and possible conflicts of interest among members of the team.
A declassified State Department fact sheet released in January contended Wuhan lab researchers “conducted experiments involving RaTG13, the bat coronavirus identified by the WIV in January 2020 as its closest sample to SARS-CoV-2 (96.2% similar)” and the lab “has a published record of conducting ‘gain-of-function’ research to engineer chimeric viruses.” The fact sheet also asserted the lab “engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military” and that lab workers became sick with coronavirus-like symptoms in autumn 2019.
Zeng denied the intelligence laid out in the declassified fact sheet.
“First, on the rumors on the Wuhan Institute of Virology, including three workers getting infected and the gain-of-function of the institute — these have been proved rumors, and the bat samples and the coronavirus tested in the bat samples, RatG13, have 96.2% of homology. Such homology is impossible to get directly infected to humans,” Zeng said. “Many scientists conducted in-depth analysis, and their conclusion is that the genome sequence has no trace of man-made engineering. … No worker or researcher in the Wuhan Institute of Virology got infected by coronavirus. No gain-of-function study was conducted in the institute. No study of man-made virus was conducted.”
Zeng concluded: “And where did this laboratory leak come from? Such a notion defies common sense and science. WHO inspectors visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and their conclusion is that the laboratory leak possibility is extremely unlikely. … We respect their conclusions.”
The U.S. intelligence community said in May that at least one of its 18 agencies is leaning toward the lab leak hypothesis, and President Joe Biden ordered all of the spy agencies to “redouble” investigative efforts.
Yuan Zhiming, the director of the biosafety lab at the Wuhan lab, claimed the level-four biosafety lab “has not had any pathogen leakage or personal infection accidents” since it began operations in 2018, and called on the United States to release the names of the three lab workers who had reportedly fallen ill in autumn 2019. Yuan also claimed that “the staff and students at the Wuhan institute have maintained a record of zero infection of COVID-19” since the start of the pandemic. And he said that “before the 13th of December 2019, the Wuhan institute had not been exposed to, preserved, or studied SARS-CoV-2.”
Liang Wannian, leader of the Chinese side of the joint WHO-China team, said the report from earlier this year “has a very detailed description, including our visit to the institute and very thorough records of that visit, and our final conclusions that it was extremely unlikely for the laboratory leak.” The meeting minutes from discussions between lab scientists and the WHO-China team showed lab leak concerns were referred to as “rumors,” “myths,” and “conspiracy theories.”
Liang contended that “there is no necessity for us to invest more efforts or resources on this hypothesis” of a lab leak, “but we do not rule out the possibility that there could be some new evidence emerging that would call for further research.” Liang said future lab leak studies should look outside of China, saying, “If some countries wish to do further studies of that, we Chinese experts would advise that relevant studies can be conducted in countries that have similar laboratories like the Wuhan institute.”
Chinese diplomats have long pushed conspiracy theories about the U.S. military or Maryland’s Ft. Detrick, which the U.S. has condemned as “false, baseless, and unscientific claims.”
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