China news: Beijing rejects next phase of WHO probe into Covid origin | World | News

The global heath body planned to return to China later this month for the second stage of the origin-tracing plan – including audits of laboratories and markets in the city of Wuhan. But Zeng Yixin, deputy health minister, has said it is “impossible” for Beijing to allow this to go ahead.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, he claimed the probe demonstrated a “disrespect for common sense and arrogance toward science”.

Mr Yixen said: “To be honest, I was quite surprised when I first saw the WHO’s phase-two origin-tracing plan because it includes as one of its research priorities the hypothesis that China had violated laboratory procedures, leading to virus leakage.

“From this point, I feel it has a disrespect for common sense and reveals an arrogance toward science.

“It is impossible for us to accept such an origin-tracing plan.”

WHO officials travelled to the city of Wuhan in January, where the virus was first detected in December 2019, and explored a theory the virus may have escaped from a Chinese laboratory.

In March, the WHO said the thesis was an “extremely unlikely pathway” for COVID-19.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the WHO, has since called for more access and transparency from China.

He urged Beijing to provide raw patient data about the first days of the pandemic that had not been shared during the first probe.

Announcing his five-point plan earlier this month, Dr Ghebreyesus proposed studies of “animal markets in and around Wuhan, including continuing studies on animals sold at the Huanan wholesale market”.

He also put forward “audits of relevant laboratories and research institutions operating in the area of the initial human cases identified in December 2019”.

On the lab leak theory, he added: “I was a lab technician myself.

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Yuan Zhiming, director of the National Biosafety Laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, also appeared at the media briefing.

He claimed the coronavirus was of natural origin and maintained no virus leak had occurred at the facility since it opened in 2018.

Following the end of the first stage of the investigation in March, the WHO chief insisted “all hypotheses remain on the table”.

Dr Ghebreyesus added: “We have not yet found the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and leave no stone unturned as we do.”

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