China rejects WHO audit of labs in second phase of Covid origin probe

A Chinese official has said Beijing rejects a plan by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to audit its labs as part of the second phase of its investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

China’s vice health minister Zeng Yixin told reporters at a press conference on Thursday that he was “extremely surprised” by the proposal, which he dismissed as showing “disrespect for common sense and arrogance towards science”.

The comments come in response to a WHO proposal, presented on Friday, for further investigation into the origins of the virus that would include audits of laboratories and markets in the city of Wuhan.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus presented the plan a day after saying that investigations were being hindered by the lack of raw data on the first days of the spread of Covid-19 in China, and called for transparency.

“Finding the origins of this virus is a scientific exercise that must be kept free from politics. For that to happen, we expect China to support this next phase of the scientific process by sharing all relevant data in a spirit of transparency,” Tedros said. China has argued that some data cannot be shared as it involved personal information.

Dismissed as a right-wing conspiracy theory and vehemently rejected by Beijing, the lab leak theory has been gaining momentum.

Earlier this year, a WHO-led team spent four weeks in and around the central city of Wuhan with Chinese researchers. Their joint report in March found that the most likely scenario was that transmission had taken place from bats through another animal and that a lab leak is “extremely unlikely”.

But the findings left many questions unanswered and pressure has been growing from the United States and some scientists for an investigation of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The comments came ahead of a weekend visit to China by US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, as tensions between Washington and Beijing soar on multiple fronts.

Yuan Zhiming, director of the National Biosafety Laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, told Thursday’s press conference “no pathogen leakage or staff infection accidents have occurred” since the lab opened in 2018

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