China rebuffs World Health Organization call for second study on COVID-19 origins

An official with China's National Health Commission dismissed lab leak idea as rumor contrary to common sense and science.
WHO covid probe
WHO team member Peter Ben Embarek (L) outside hotel after wrap of COVID-19 origin probe in China, Feb. 10, 2021.
(Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty)

China will not accept the World Health Organization's plan for the second phase of a study into the origins of COVID-19, a senior Chinese health official said Thursday.

Zeng Yixin, the vice minister of the National Health Commission, said he was “rather taken aback” that the plan includes further investigation of the theory that the virus might have leaked from a Chinese lab, according to the Associated Press.

He dismissed the lab leak idea as a rumor that runs counter to common sense and science.

"It is impossible for us to accept such an origin-tracing plan," he said at a news conference called to address the COVID-19 origins issue.

China said when the virus was first detected in late 2019 that humans became infected after a person bought a bat at an exotic food market.

The market is in the same city as the government-run Wuhan Virology Lab, which has done coronavirus-type research and has had leaks, as others have around the world.

A team of WHO investigators that went to China earlier this year to learn more about the virus gained access to the lab but said they had limited access to data and records.

Yuan Zhiming, the director of the biosafety lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, said researchers there had not stored or studied the new coronavirus before the outbreak. 

"I want to emphasize that .... the Wuhan Institute of Virology has never designed, made or leaked the novel coronavirus," he said, the wire service also reports.

The WHO team concluded that the virus most likely jumped from animals to humans, probably from bats to an intermediate animal. The experts visited markets in Wuhan that had sold live animals, and recommended further study of the farms that supplied the market.