China rejects WHO plan for second phase of virus origin probe

China has rejected the next stage of a World Health Organization (WHO) plan to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. The WHO wants to audit laboratories in the area where the virus was first identified. But Zeng Yixin, deputy health minister, said this showed “disrespect for common sense and arrogance toward science”.

WHO experts said it was very unlikely the virus escaped from a Chinese lab, but the theory has endured. Investigators were able to visit Wuhan – the city where the virus was first detected in December 2019 – in January of this year. But earlier this month, WHO head Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus outlined the terms of the inquiry’s next phase. This included looking at certain science research institutions. Zeng Yixin, vice minister of the National Health Commission (NHC), told reporters that he was taken aback when he first read the WHO plan because it lists the hypothesis that a Chinese violation of laboratory protocols had caused the virus to leak during research. The head of the WHO said earlier in July that investigations into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in China were being hampered by the lack of raw data on the first days of spread there. Zeng reiterated China’s position that some data could not be completely shared due to privacy concerns. More than four million people have died worldwide since the start of the pandemic and the WHO has faced growing international pressure to further investigate the origins of the virus.