China says it’s put forward alternative parameters for a second probe into the origins of COVID-19 that should span multiple countries, Beijing’s latest move to counter a push by the U.S. for a deeper investigation into the theory the virus leaked from a Wuhan lab.
China, where the coronavirus that caused the pandemic first emerged, submitted a counterproposal for how the second phase of the World Health Organization’s study should be conducted, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular press briefing in Beijing on Thursday. He didn’t specify when or to which body the proposal had been submitted.
“This is a science-based professional plan that can stand the test of practice,” Zhao said. “The study that has already been carried out in phase one, especially those with clear conclusions, should not be carried out again in the second phase.”
Many countries have expressed concern and opposition to the WHO’s plan for a second-phase origin study, Zhao said, without elaborating as to which nations.
China’s move came as the U.S. and its allies have accused Beijing of stonewalling a phase-two study into the virus’s origin, including an investigation of the possibility the virus may have escaped from a Chinese biosecurity lab where similar coronaviruses have been studied. China has opposed such studies, saying it will not participate.
Beijing and its top health experts have vehemently refuted the hypothesis that the virus, now officially known as Sars-CoV-2, was leaked from a lab in Wuhan, saying no such virus was studied there before COVID first emerged in 2019.
Subsequent studies have been planned following an initial, closely-watched probe by a joint team of international experts assembled by the WHO — and their Chinese counterparts — in Wuhan in February.
The experts concluded that the virus was most likely to have an animal source and passed through intermediary hosts before eventually being able to transmit between humans. They called the lab leak theory extremely unlikely based on the evidence reviewed and a visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The conclusion has been challenged by western governments and other global experts, who argued that the group assembled by the WHO lacked qualifications to determine the possibility of a lab leak. The WHO’s own secretary-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has said the assessment wasn’t extensive enough and vowed for more studies in the hope of reaching stronger conclusions.
“We should let scientists find out the origin of the virus to prevent future risk,” said Zhao, the foreign ministry spokesman. “We should firmly reject political manipulation.”
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