China calls COVID ‘lab leak’ theory a lie

China has attacked the theory that the coronavirus pandemic may have originated as a leak from a Chinese laboratory as a politically motivated lie.

The attack follows the World Health Organization’s recommendation in its strongest terms even though a deeper investigation is needed into whether a laboratory accident may be to blame.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian rejected accusations that China did not fully cooperate with investigators, saying it welcomed a science-based investigation but rejected any political manipulation.

He also 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 suggested, without evidence, that the US was developing the coronavirus as a bioweapon.

“The lab leak theory is totally a lie invented by anti-China forces for political purposes, which has nothing to do with science,” Zhao said at a daily briefing.

“We have always supported and participated in science-based global virus tracking, but we are firmly opposed to any form of political manipulation,” he said.

Zhao said China has made major contributions to virus tracking, sharing most of the data and research results.

This “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.

The WHO’s position in a report released on Thursday is a sharp reversal of the UN health agency’s initial assessment of the origins of the pandemic. This comes after many critics accused the WHO of being too quick to dismiss or downplay a lab leak theory that has put Chinese officials on the defensive.

After a tightly controlled visit to China last year, the WHO concluded that it was “extremely unlikely” that the coronavirus could have spread to humans from a laboratory in the city of Wuhan. Many scientists suspect that the coronavirus jumped from bats to people, possibly through another animal.

However, in Thursday’s report, the WHO expert group said “key data” was still lacking to explain how the pandemic began. The scientists said the group “will remain open to any and all scientific evidence that becomes available in the future to allow comprehensive testing of all reasonable hypotheses.”

Identifying the source of a disease in animals usually takes years. It took more than a decade for scientists to identify the bat species that were the natural reservoir of SARS, a relative of COVID-19.

The WHO expert group also noted that as laboratory accidents in the past have triggered some outbreaks, the highly politicized theory cannot be ruled out.

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