China Says ‘Politicizing’ Origins of COVID Hinder Investigation

China Says ‘Politicizing’ Origins of COVID Hinder Investigation

Politicizing the origins of COVID-19 would hamper further investigations and undermine global efforts to stem the pandemic, the Chinese embassy in the United States said after President Joe Biden ordered a review of U.S. intelligence on how and the place where the virus first appeared.
“Some political forces have been obsessed with political manipulation and (the) blame game,” the embassy in Washington, DC said in a statement on its website Wednesday evening.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is preparing to begin a second phase of studies into the origins of COVID-19, and China has been under pressure to give investigators more access amid claims that SARS-CoV-2 is said to have leaked from a research laboratory in the city of Wuhan, where the first cases of COVID-19 appeared in late 2019.

China has repeatedly denied that the lab was responsible, accusing the United States and other countries of trying to distract from their own failures to contain the virus.

Biden said on Wednesday that U.S. intelligence agencies were divided over whether COVID-19 “resulted from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.”

Earlier this week, it was revealed that US agencies were examining reports that three researchers at the Wuhan lab fell so ill in November 2019 that they sought hospital treatment.

“We are starting to see a lot of converging streams of evidence indicating that there has been no transparency from the Chinese government,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, an expert in biosafety and emerging infectious diseases, told Al Jazeera. . “We are hearing about people who worked at the Wuhan Institute of Virology falling ill with disease, we know it has been spreading since November (2019) and we have seen the Chinese government being very reluctant to allow the press to ‘investigate the origins. of this virus, so I think that raises questions about whether the Chinese government is accepting what may have happened in the early days of the pandemic.

Yanzhong Huang, senior researcher for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC, said China’s lack of openness was a key factor in the resurgence of the laboratory leak theory.

“There is nothing really new to prove the hypothesis,” he said. “In investigating the origins of the pandemic, it is really important to be transparent in order to build confidence in the results of the investigation.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease, visited Wuhan and places around the city, including a research laboratory and the seafood market where cases initially emerged, under strict security earlier this year. [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

‘An in-depth study’

China has stepped up efforts to control the narrative surrounding the pandemic after successfully suppressing the virus in Wuhan, the city in central China where what was then a mysterious new viral pneumonia was first detected towards the end from 2019.

Whistleblowers, journalists and the families of those who died have come under pressure. Dr Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist who was one of the first to warn the public about the virus, was arrested by police for spreading “rumors.” In December, citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer, was accused of “provoking quarrels and causing unrest” and sentenced to four years in prison for her work in the early days of the epidemic. Others are also on trial on similar charges.

The Chinese embassy said it was supporting “a full study of all the first cases of COVID-19 found around the world and a full investigation of some secret bases and biological laboratories around the world.”

The Global Times tabloid, which is part of the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper group, said Wednesday evening that if the “laboratory leak theory” was to be further investigated, the United States should also allow investigators to enter their own facilities, including the Fort Detrick lab.

“Very clearly they are trying to internationalize to get out of the traffic jam they’re in,” said Jamie Metzl, senior member of the Atlantic Council think tank, who has campaigned for a new independent inquiry. .

A joint China-WHO study published in March said it was highly unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 would leak from the lab, adding that it most likely spread from bats to humans via an as yet unidentified intermediate species.

China also continued to report the possibility that COVID-19 originated in another country and entered the country through an infection transmitted through frozen food or through wildlife trade networks in the southeast. from China.

Intensive care patients at a Wuhan hospital in February last year as COVID-19 took hold in the city [File: China Daily via Reuters]

“The pandemic started in China,” Metzl said. “Let’s start with a full investigation out there and expand if necessary. In short, this [statement from the embassy] is a scandalous insult to everyone who died from the aftermath of this terrible tragedy and their families.

Huang of the CFR said new investigations into the origins of COVID-19 were at a “dead end.”

“Ideally, you want China to be more cooperative and more transparent,” Huang said. “But now the matter has become so politicized, with the stakes of the investigation so high. ”


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