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China Rejects WHO Plan for Further Study of Coronavirus Origins

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. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
China Rejects WHO Plan for Further Study of Coronavirus Origins
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China has rejected a plan by the World Health Organization (WHO) to continue investigating the origins of the new coronavirus.

China’s vice minister of health, Zeng Yixin, dismissed on Thursday a WHO proposal made this month for further study. The official objected because the WHO plans to investigate the theory that the coronavirus may have escaped from a Chinese laboratory.

“It is impossible for us to accept such an origin-tracing plan,” Zeng told reporters. He described the lab origin idea as a rumor that goes against common sense and science.

The earliest known cases of the new coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, were identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. The head of the WHO said earlier this month that the organization was seeking more information from China on the first days of the virus spread.

“We are asking China to be transparent, open and cooperate,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “Especially on the information, raw data that we asked for in the early days of the pandemic,” he added.

The investigation into the origins of the virus has become a diplomatic issue that has fueled China's worsening relations with the U.S. and other countries. The U.S. and others say China has not been completely open about what happened in the early days of the pandemic. China accuses critics of seeking to blame it for the health crisis and for politicizing the issue.

Zeng repeated China's position that some data cannot not be completely shared because of privacy concerns. He urged the WHO to "seriously review the considerations and suggestions made by Chinese experts.” He added that the issue should be treated “as a scientific matter” with no “political interference."

Most scientists do not believe a lab escape was responsible for releasing the coronavirus. In a report released in March, the WHO said the new coronavirus likely started in bats before being passed on to humans through another animal. That report was carried out jointly between the WHO and China.

But debate has continued over whether the possibility of a lab escape is so unlikely that it should be dropped, or whether the theory justifies further study.

Zeng, along with other officials and Chinese experts at the news conference, called on 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…" said Liang Wannian, China’s head of the WHO joint expert team. More animal studies should be carried out, especially in countries with bat populations, Liang said.

Liang did say the lab escape theory should not be completely ignored. He suggested, however, that if such evidence is justified, other nations need to look into the possibility that it leaked from their labs.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press and Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.

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Words in This Story

originsn. the cause of something or where something begins or comes from

tracev. to try to find someone or who they have met by collecting and studying evidence

rumorn. information or a story that is passed from person to person but has not been proven to be true

transparent – adj. being open and honest about something

raw adj. being in or nearly in a natural state