China rejects WHO call for more covid origins research, says plan does not respect science

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China said it will not accept the World Health Organization’s suggested plan for a second phase of investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, pointing to obstacles ahead for international efforts to determine the source of the pandemic.

In a news conference on Thursday, Zeng Yixin, deputy head of China’s National Health Commission, fired back against WHO criticism of China’s level of cooperation, and said the U.N. agency’s proposed work plan did not respect science.

“To be honest, when I first saw the WHO’s second-phase traceability plan, I was very surprised,” he said. “Because in this plan, the hypothesis of ‘China’s violation of laboratory procedures causing virus leakage’ is one of the research priorities.

“From this point, I can feel the disrespect for common sense and the arrogant attitude towards science revealed in this plan.”

He said it was “impossible” for China to accept the proposal.

Last week, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced a five-part plan for follow-up research on the origins of the coronavirus. It called for deeper study in geographical areas with early outbreaks, more research of animal markets in Wuhan, and audits of research labs near where the first cases emerged.

Tedros also held a news conference in which he criticized China’s cooperation, saying the country’s government did not share “raw data” with the WHO team that visited Wuhan earlier this year to investigate the source of the initial outbreak.

A joint WHO-China report on the coronavirus origins released in March had said the pandemic probably began naturally and called the possibility of a lab leak at the origin “extremely unlikely.” But Tedros called for continued investigation of all theories, including the possibility of a lab accident.

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