(AP) — A senior Chinese health official said Thursday that China
will not accept the World Health Organization
's plan for the second phase of a study into the origins of COVID-19
Zeng Yixin, vice minister of the National Health Commission
, expressed surprise that the plan includes additional research
into the theory that the virus may have leaked from a Chinese lab.
He dismissed the idea of a lab leak as a rumor that defies logic and science
“We cannot accept such an origin-tracing plan,” he said at a press conference called to address the COVID-19 origins issue.
The search for the virus's origins has become a diplomatic issue, fueling China's deteriorating relations with the United States
and many of its allies. The United States and others claim that China was not transparent about what happened in the early days of the pandemic
, and China accuses critics of seeking to blame it for the pandemic and politicizing an issue that should be left to scientists.
The WHO's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
, admitted last week that there had been a "premature push" after the first phase of the study to rule out the theory that the virus had escaped from a Chinese government
lab in Wuhan, where the disease was first detected in late 2019.
Most experts believe a lab leak is unlikely, but the question is whether the possibility is so remote that it should be dismissed, or whether it warrants further investigation
The first phase was carried out earlier this year by an international team of scientists who traveled to Wuhan to collaborate with their Chinese counterparts, and the team was accused of caving in to Chinese demands after initially indicating that additional research was not required.
Zeng stated that the Wuhan lab contains no virus that can directly infect humans and that the WHO team concluded that a lab leak was highly unlikely; he also stated that speculation that lab staff and graduate students
were infected and may have started the virus's spread in the city was false.
“I want to emphasize that.... the Wuhan Institute of Virology
has never designed, made, or leaked the novel coronavirus
,” said Yuan Zhiming, director of the biosafety lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The WHO team concluded that the virus most likely spread from animals
to humans, most likely from bats to an intermediate animal, and recommended further investigation of the farms that supplied the market.
“In the next step, I believe that animal tracing should remain the priority direction, as it is the most valuable field for our efforts,” Liang Wannian, who led the Chinese delegation, said at a news conference
“We are asking China to be transparent, open, and cooperate, especially on the information, raw data that we requested in the early days of the pandemic,” Tedros said last week.
At the same virtual news conference, Germany
's health minister, Jens Spahn, urged China to step up
cooperation in the hunt for the virus's origin.
“We are opposed to politicizing the tracing work
,” Zeng said, adding that China has always supported “scientific virus tracing” and wants the study to be expanded to other countries and regions.
China has frequently sought to deflect accusations that the pandemic began in Wuhan and was spread due to early bureaucratic blunders and an attempt at cover-up.
Government officials have called for an investigation into whether the virus was created in a US military
laboratory, a theory that has not been widely accepted by the scientific community.
Through lockdowns and mask-wearing requirements, China has largely eliminated local transmission of COVID, and has now administered more than 1.4 billion doses of Chinese vaccines
. Only 12 new domestically spread cases were reported Thursday, and China's death toll
from the virus has remained unchanged for months at 4,636.