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Covid-19: WHO says lab-leak theory needs further investigations; China responds

Even after two years, WHO's recent report states that key pieces of data that can explain how the pandemic began are still missing.

Hritika Mitra Edited by: Hritika Mitra @MitraHritika Geneva Published on: June 10, 2022 18:04 IST
A worker in protectively overalls and carrying disinfecting
Image Source : AP

A worker in protectively overalls and carrying disinfecting equipment walks outside the Wuhan Central Hospital, China on Feb. 6, 2021.

Highlights

  • WHO's recent data states that key pieces of how the pandemic began is still missing
  • China stated that WHO's statement was a politically motivated lie
  • Covid killed more than 6.3 million people worldwide and forced dozens of countries into lockdown

The World Health Organization on Friday reasserted that a deeper investigation was required on the origin of Coronavirus and whether it was a lab accident. This comes after several critics accused the U.N. health agency of being too quick to dismiss or underplay a lab-leak theory that put Chinese officials on the defensive.

Last year, WHO had concluded that it was extremely unlikely that Covid might have spilled into humans in the city of Wuhan from a lab. Many scientists suspect the coronavirus jumped into people from bats, possibly via another animal. Yet even after two years, WHO's recent report states that key pieces of data that can explain how the pandemic began were still missing. WHO’s expert group also noted that since lab accidents in the past have triggered some outbreaks, the highly politicized theory could not be discounted.

Jean-Claude Manuguerra, a co-chair of the 27-member international advisory group, acknowledged that some scientists might be “allergic” to the idea of investigating the lab leak theory, but said they needed to be “open-minded” enough to examine it. The report could revive accusations that WHO initially was too accepting of Chinese government explanations early in the outbreak, which ultimately killed millions of people, sickened millions more, forced dozens of countries into lockdown and upended the world economy.

Lab-leak theory a lie, says China

China, however, refuted the theory stating the WHO's claim was a politically motivated lie. China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian also rejected accusations that China had not fully cooperated with investigators, saying it welcomed a science-based probe but rejected any political manipulation.

He reiterated calls for an investigation into “highly suspicious laboratories such as Fort Detrick and the University of North Carolina” in the United States where China has suggested, without evidence, that the U.S. was developing the coronavirus as a bioweapon. “The lab leak theory is totally a lie concocted by anti-China forces for political purposes, which has nothing to do with science,” Zhao said at a daily briefing.

“We always supported and participated in science-based global virus tracing, but we firmly opposed any forms of political manipulation,” he said, repeating China’s long-standing explanation for delaying or rejecting further investigations into the virus’s origins. Zhao said China has made major contributions toward virus tracing, sharing the most data and research results. That “fully reflects China’s open, transparent and responsible attitude, as well as its support for the work of the WHO and the advisory group,” he said.

Earlier, China was accused of responding slowly and covering up the extent of the outbreak, before it locked down the entire city of Wuhan and surrounding areas in the first of a series of draconian measures labeled “zero-COVID” which continue today as much of the rest of the world is opening up again.

Meanwhile, the Covid has killed more than 6.3 million people worldwide, forced dozens of countries into lockdown and upended the world economy. It was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and was initially linked to a traditional market where wild animals were sold for food.

(With Agencies Inputs)

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