China rejects WHO plan for COVID-19 origin study

China has rejected the World Health Organization's plan for a second phase of an investigation into the origin of the coronavirus.

The plan includes the hypothesis that the virus could have escaped from a Chinese laboratory, and the proposal includes doing audits of labs and markets in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

On Thursday (July 22), the vice minister of the National Health Commission Zeng Yixin told reporters he was taken aback when he read the details:

"To be honest when I first saw the WHO's second phase an investigation into the origin of the coronavirus, I was very surprised. Because in this plan, the hypothesis of 'China's violation of laboratory procedures causing virus leakage' is one of the research priorities. In this aspect, I feel the plan disregards common sense and defies science."

The origin of the virus remains contested among experts.

The first known cases emerged in Wuhan in December 2019.

The virus was believed to have jumped to humans from animals being sold for food at a city market.

A joint report in March by a WHO-led team that spent four weeks in and around Wuhan with Chinese researchers backed up that thesis.

It said that the laboratory leak theory was “extremely unlikely”.

But other countries including the U.S. and some scientists have not been satisfied with that conclusion.

In May, President Joe Biden said U.S. intelligence agencies were pursuing rival theories, potentially including the possibility of a laboratory accident in China.

The lab in question is the Wuhan Institute of Virology which had been conducting research on bats that carry coronavirus.

One key part of the lab leak theory has centered on its decision to take offline its gene sequence and sample database in 2019.

Zeng, along with other officials and Chinese experts at the news conference, urged the WHO to expand origin-tracing efforts beyond China to other countries.

He accused the WHO of politicizing the study.