Last month, World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the second phase of the WHO’s probe into the origins of the coronavirus will include an audit of labs and research facilities in China’s Wuhan, where the first COVID-19 cases were registered in December 2019.
China has rejected the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) call “to work together” on a second probe into the origins of the coronavirus, insisting that the initial WHO-led inquiry in March was enough and that Beijing prefers scientific efforts to political ones to find out how “the worst pandemic in a century” started.
WHO spokesperson Fadela Chaib announced on Friday that the new International Scientific Advisory Group for Origins of Novel Pathogens will start a “rapid undertaking” of further studies on COVID-19’s origins.
The new phase was hailed by Washington, which expressed hope that “emphasis on scientific-based studies and data driven efforts to find the origins of this pandemic” would help “better detect, prevent and respond to future disease outbreaks”.
Wuhan Institute of Virology
“We oppose political tracing […] and abandoning the joint report. We support scientific tracing”, Сhinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu for his part told reporters on Friday, adding that “the conclusions and recommendations of WHO and China joint report were recognised by the international community and the scientific community”.
He argued that “future global traceability work should and can only be further carried out on the basis of this report, rather than starting a new one”.
In the document pertaining to the WHO’s fact-finding mission to China, the UN body concluded that the possibility of the virus having leaked from a state laboratory in Wuhan’s Institute of Virology (WIV) was “extremely unlikely”. WHO experts argued that there was a high possibility the virus was transmitted to humans from bats via another animal.
Beijing Calls for Probe Into US’ Fort Detrick Lab
Ma’s remarks come a few weeks after China’s National Health Commission stressed that Beijing perceives the WHO’s criteria for the second phase of the investigation into origins of the coronavirus as insulting and will not follow them.
“Scientists have reached a consensus that COVID-19 is of a natural origin. Experts have published a statement saying that there is no evidence of the artificial origin of COVID-19 and its leak from the laboratory”, the commission’s representative said.
Separately, reports emerged to claim that Beijing is intensifying efforts to make the WHO open an investigation into a US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) lab at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
© AFP 2021 / JOHANNES EISELE
Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli (L) is seen inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, capital of China’s Hubei province on February 23, 2017
In an alleged letter to the WHO, Beijing emphasised that China had allowed Western virologists and US media representatives to visit the WIV, while the US has not followed suit with Fort Detrick nor shared any data with “countries including China that are independent from US geopolitical influence”.
The US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland, was briefly shut down in 2019 after an inspection by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The lab said that the reason for its shutdown was “ongoing infrastructure issues with wastewater decontamination”.
The state-run Chinese tabloid Global Times, in turn, released what it described as email correspondence between CDC officials at USAMRIID from 2018 to 2019, which revealed several violations at the Fort Detrick lab during the CDC’s inspections in 2019.
The tabloid cited an unnamed source as claiming that “some highly pathogenic” viruses in the laboratory “were likely released” as a result of the alleged violations. The source also accused the American military of “never” telling the public “about what they were doing”.
In late May, President Joe Biden gave the US intelligence community 90 days to produce a report re-examining the origins of the coronavirus and determining whether the disease leaked from a lab or spread from an infected animal to a human.
The former US administration repeatedly claimed COVID-19 originated in a Wuhan lab, with ex-President Donald Trump referring to the disease as the “China virus”. Beijing has consistently rejected the allegations, calling on Washington to stop politicising the issue and insisting that the coronavirus may have been leaked from a US Army lab.