Thursday, July 22, 2021

I AGREE WITH CHINA: WHO Does not respect common sense - China rejects WHO call for another probe into virus origins / Further over 4 million Chinese petition WHO to probe Fort Detrick lab on COVID-19 origins

China pushed back against the World Health Organization’s call for another probe into the coronavirus’s origins that includes examining whether it leaked from a lab, saying there’s no evidence for the theory and it defies common sense.

The pathogen most likely arose in an animal, which transmitted it to humans via an intermediate host, a group of top Chinese science officials insisted at a briefing in Beijing on Thursday. They praised an earlier WHO report that pointed primarily to animals and called for a worldwide search for the genesis of the outbreak, while saying that the lab leak hypothesis was “extremely impossible.”

The Wuhan laboratory at the center of the controversy “never had the virus,” said Liang Wannian, an epidemiologist who headed the team of Chinese experts working with the WHO. “There’s no need for us to put more resources into a lab leak probe.”

Conspiracy Theory

The hypothesis was once dismissed as a conspiracy theory by opponents of former U.S. President Donald Trump, whose administration raised the possibility ahead of the 2020 election. The premise subsequently gained traction as scientists questioned China’s reluctance to provide access to primary source material, attention grew over efforts among some virologists to make viruses stronger, called “gain of function” work, and some world leaders called for a deeper probe.

While China has consistently rejected the lab hypothesis, officials sought to draw a line in the sand Thursday, signaling Beijing won’t engage on the origin hunt if the theory remained in play. It was China’s most direct pushback to date on calls from the WHO and others to investigate the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s high-level lab, which studied bat-borne pathogens and other coronaviruses.

“The plan on the second phase of the origin study, it contains language that does not respect science or common sense,” said Zeng Yixin, vice minister of the National Health Commission. “We won’t follow such a plan.”

Also readChina calls Wuhan lab leak theory ‘absurd’, resists US pressure on allowing new Covid origin study

Alternative Theories

The hunt for the virus’s origin has been shrouded in controversy, with officials in Beijing and Washington pushing alternative theories about how the pathogen emerged.

U.S. President Joe Biden in May said the U.S. intelligence community was divided on whether the virus emerged from human contact with animals or from a laboratory accident, and he ordered them to “redouble their efforts” and report back by late August. The move renewed suspicion that the virus could have escaped from the Wuhan lab.

Chinese officials said they are committed to uncovering the origins of the novel coronavirus, a matter that deserves serious study and should be based on science. The WHO’s plans to make the lab leak hypothesis a priority for the next stage of research has been contaminated by political posturing and displays “arrogance against science,” Zeng said.

‘Patient Zero’

It’s likely that the initial case found on Dec. 8, 2019, wasn’t the “Patient Zero,” a term that indicates the first person to be infected with a new virus, the officials said. They repeated calls for broadening the effort to a global investigation into the source of the outbreak, including an examination of whether the pathogen could have first emerged in bats outside of China.

“If the origin tracing studies are to be continued, I think the part one outcomes indicate that bats should be made a priority globally,” Liang said. “We should not confine the research only to China. Anywhere that is home to a large number of bats can be made the future destination for origin tracing studies,” he said. “This is the area we need to pay the most attention to.”

China has been in the crosshairs since the start of the pandemic in late 2019, after being criticized for delaying research efforts and restricting the access of independent investigators. Now global leaders including the head of the WHO, the Australian government and others are calling on Beijing to cooperate with the next stage of deciphering the virus’s creation story, which is essential to understanding what befell the globe and reducing the risk of future pandemics.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in March said the global body’s first probe didn’t adequately analyze the possibility of a lab accident before deciding it’s most likely the pathogen spread from bats to humans via another animal. He said scientists would benefit from “full access to data,” including biological samples from at least September 2019, and he was willing to deploy more resources to investigate.

Wildlife Link

Vendors in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, including at the Huanan seafood market tied to some of the earliest Covid cases, were selling live wild animals known to harbor coronaviruses when the outbreak began, according to a study published in June.

The presence of these mammals, which may have acted as a conduit through which SARS-CoV-2 was introduced to humans, contradicts information researchers were given in January. People running the market told the WHO-led team that animals sold there were from licensed farms. The researchers said they couldn’t verify reports of live animal sales.

Liang said Chinese authorities weren’t aware of the situation when investigators visited the market in January and February, a year after the outbreak led to its closure-Bloomberg

Update: Over 4 million Chinese petition WHO to probe Fort Detrick lab on COVID-19 origins
Over 4 million Chinese netizens have signed an open letter as of Wednesday morning, demanding the World Health Organization (WHO) investigate the US' Fort Detrick lab on COVID-19 origins, and the number is still increasing.  

The letter was issued as the WHO on Friday proposed a second phase of studies into the origins of the coronavirus in China, including "audits of laboratories and markets in Wuhan," calling for "transparency" from authorities. The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Monday said the latest proposal was not consistent with the position of China and many countries, and urged the WHO to work with the international community to resist the adverse trend of politicizing the COVID-19 origins issue. 

A group of Chinese netizens drafted an open letter to ask the WHO to investigate the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland, And entrusted the Global Times with posting the letter on its WeChat and Weibo platforms on Saturday to solicit public response. 

They said in the letter that to prevent the next epidemic, the WHO should pay special attention to labs that are conducting studies on dangerous viruses or even biochemical weapons. The open letter particularly noted the Fort Detrick lab, which stores the most deadly and infectious viruses in the world, including Ebola, smallpox, SARS, MERS and the novel coronavirus. The leak of any of them would cause severe danger to the world. 

Prior to this, the same group published an open letter in June calling for the WHO to investigate Fort Detrick. 

The Global Times also launched an online poll on Saturday, and over 90 percent of the 18,000 respondents agreed that the WHO should investigate the Fort Detrick biological lab, as of press time Monday. 

At Monday's press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the US should be transparent and face up to the calls of the international community, including the Chinese, and give a satisfactory response to the open letter and online poll. 

The public and the media are trying to get answers to questions that the international community has been asking for a while. However, some people in the US have been keeping the public in the dark, Zhao said. 

"Please answer the following questions: First, what's the connection between the Fort Detrick lab and the unexplained respiratory diseases like those suspected with vaping? Second, why hasn't the US invited the WHO to conduct a thorough investigation at Fort Detrick? Third, why can't international experts visit the US for tracing virus origins since they have visited China?" Zhao asked. 

On WHO's proposal for a follow-up study into the origins, Zhao said that it was not consistent with the position of China and many other countries. China hopes that the WHO will have full communication with member states, listen to and adopt opinions of all parties and ensure that the drafting process of the phase-II study is open and transparent. 

China is concerned about the politicization of the coronavirus origins tracing by some countries. We hope that the WHO,in the spirit of scientific professionalism and objectivity, will work with the international community to resist the adverse trend of politicizing the issue, Zhao said. 

Yang Zhanqiu, a deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told the Global Times that almost all prevailing coronavirus variants have been discovered in the US. By comparison, the virus strain found in China has no bearing with many variants. Therefore, it is appropriate to carry out a virus origins probe in the US, said Yang.

The virologist also called on the US to hand over blood samples of those COVID-19 patients, and disclose more information about the country's epidemiologic survey, to give a clearer picture of the relation between US cases and those of other countries. He said that US labs keep blood samples dating back to the 1980s. 

In June, a study of more than 24,000 samples taken for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) research program in the US between January 2 and March 18, 2020, found that seven people in five states -  Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - may have been infected with COVID-19 well before the country's first confirmed cases reported in January 21, 2020. 

The WHO-China joint study report issued on March 30, 2021, reached a clear conclusion and offered suggestions for the next phase of global study into the origins, which concluded that the Wuhan "lab leak" hypothesis is extremely unlikely, and that we should look for possible early cases of the outbreak more widely around the world and further understand the role of cold chains and frozen food. 

Zhao said that the conclusions and recommendations of this report should be respected and upheld, and be reflected in the next phase of studies into the origins of COVID-19. 

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