Did coronavirus escape from Wuhan lab? China vs WHO on Covid origins

NEW DELHI: The World Health Organization and China appear to be at odds over a probe to ascertain the possibility that Covid-19 escaped from a lab.
China, which is vehemently opposed to the theory that the pathogen came from a virology lab in Wuhan, has bluntly rejected the WHO‘s call for another probe into the origins of the deadly virus.
‘Defies science’
The WHO’s plan for a second phase of an investigation included audits of laboratories and markets in the city of Wuhan, calling for transparency from authorities.
However, Chinese officials made it clear they won’t play ball this time.
Expressing “shock” over the WHO’s plan for a second probe, China remarked that the global health body’s hyopthesis about a possible lab leak “defies science”.
“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), told reporters.
China insisted that the pathogen most likely arose in an animal, which transmitted it to humans via an intermediate host.
It also praised an earlier WHO report that pointed primarily to animals and called for a worldwide search for the genesis of the outbreak, while saying that the lab leak hypothesis was “extremely impossible.”
Yuan Zhiming, director of the National Biosafety Laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, told Thursday’s press conference that “no pathogen leakage or staff infection accidents have occurred” since the lab opened in 2018.
‘Can’t rule out lab leak’
In a rare departure from his usual deference to powerful member countries, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had acknowledged last week that it was premature to rule out a potential link between the pandemic and a leak from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan.
Wuhan is the city where the disease was first detected in late 2019.
Tedros said he hoped for better cooperation and access to data from China, adding that getting access to raw data had been a challenge for the international expert team that traveled to China this year to investigate the cause of the outbreak.
“I was a lab technician myself, I’m an immunologist, and I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen,” Tedros had said.
Tedros highlighted that getting to the bottom of the mystery of where Covid-19 came from was “essential”, for “understanding how the pandemic started and preventing future outbreaks.”
Among the five priorities listed for the next phase of the investigation, the WHO had explicitly mentioned “audits of relevant laboratories and research institutions operating in the area of the initial human cases identified in December 2019”.
Shrouded in mystery
The origin of the virus remains contested among experts.
The first known cases emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. The virus was believed to have jumped to humans from animals being sold for food at a city market.
In May, US President Joe Biden ordered aides to find answers to questions over the origin saying that US intelligence agencies were pursuing rival theories potentially including the possibility of a laboratory accident in China.
He even ordered the officials to “redouble their efforts” and report back by late August. The move renewed interest into the possibility that the virus could have escaped from the Wuhan lab.
Moreover, a key part of the lab leak theory has centered on the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s (WIV) decision to take offline its gene sequence and sample databases in 2019.
When asked about this decision, Yuan Zhiming told reporters that at present the databases were only shared internally due to cyber attack concerns.
(With inputs from agencies)

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