2nd phase of WHO COVID-19 origin tracing not approved by all members: FM spokesperson

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Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian [Photo/fmprc.gov.cn]

The World Health Organization's (WHO) plan for the second phase of studies into the origins of COVID-19 was put forward unilaterally by the WHO Secretariat without getting the approval of all member states, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Thursday.

Zhao told a daily news briefing that the WHO is led by member states, and the draft plan was put forward by the Secretariat for discussion by member states, who have the right to make adjustments. "The mandate of the Secretariat is to provide convenience for member states to have full consultation and reach consensus. It is not entitled to decision-making on its own."

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, China has all along attached high importance to studies into the origins of the virus, actively participating in global cooperation in this area with an open and science-based attitude, and inviting WHO experts to China twice for joint research in origin-tracing, according to Zhao.

"We have invested tremendous efforts, achieved important outcomes, and reached authoritative conclusions," he said.

Recently, many countries, including China, have expressed concern and opposition to the second phase of the origin-tracing work plan proposed by the WHO Secretariat, Zhao said, adding that it is a shared belief that the plan failed to reflect the latest outcomes of global research in origin-tracing and can not serve as the basis for the second phase of joint origin studies, Zhao said.

Meanwhile, 60 countries have written to the WHO director general saying that they welcome the joint WHO-China study report and reject politicizing origin studies, he added.

"This is the legitimate appeal and voice of justice from the international community," said the spokesperson.

Zhao noted that before the WHO Secretariat circulated its plan, Chinese experts, with a view to support and coordinate with WHO efforts to conduct the next phase of origin studies, had submitted to WHO a Chinese proposal based on the previous phase of studies jointly conducted by Chinese and WHO experts and the joint report.

"The Chinese plan is a science-based and professional solution that has been tested in practice," Zhao said.

He said the second phase should be guided by the World Health Assembly resolution, rely mainly on scientists, and conduct evidence-based scientific research, adding that the joint WHO-China study report's conclusions and recommendations should serve as the basis for the second phase of studies.

The second phase should not repeat what has already been conducted during the first phase, especially where conclusive findings were already reached, Zhao said, adding that since the joint WHO-China study report already stated clearly that "a laboratory origin of the pandemic was considered to be extremely unlikely," the key focus of the second phase should be on possible pathways identified as "very likely" and "likely" by the joint report.

"Efforts should be made to advance traceability research in various countries and regions across the world," he said.

Zhao said the practice, mechanisms and approaches used in the first phase should be drawn on to conduct further studies in an orderly and smooth manner.

"The regions to be covered by the second phase and the work plan should be determined after comprehensive assessment based on open research evidence," he said.

Zhao also noted that the expert group should be formed on the basis of the experts in the first phase of the origin-tracing research, and fully respect the professional level, international reputation and practical experience of the members of the expert group, adding that experts in other fields can be added appropriately on the basis of the original composition of experts if necessary.

China will continue to act on relevant work recommendations in the joint WHO-China study report and actively conduct further follow-up research concerning China recommended in the report, Zhao said, stressing that the study of origins is a serious matter of science, and we should let scientists get to the bottom of this virus so as to get better prepared for future risks.

"We firmly reject origin-tracing based on politics. As to truly science-based studies of origins, we have taken an active part in them and will continue to do so," Zhao said.

On July 28, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price released a readout on Secretary of State Antony Blinken's meeting with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, where Blinken "affirmed U.S. support for the WHO's plans to conduct additional studies into the COVID-19 origins, including in the People's Republic of China," "stressed the need for the next phase to be timely, evidence-based, transparent, expert-led, and free from interference," and "emphasized the importance of the international community coming together on this matter."

In response, Zhao said China agrees that studies into origins of COVID-19 should be evidence-based, expert-led, and free from interference. "But that is not what the U.S. side has been doing."

Zhao said the United States has falsely accused China of a lab leak and fabricated the rumor that three Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers fell ill though it could not even provide their names; it has ordered the intelligence community to do the job of origin-tracing and resorted to sidelining and muzzling objective and rational scientists and professionals; and senior U.S. government officials reportedly halted an origin-tracing project and sealed blood samples collected before Jan. 2, 2020 from further testing after COVID-19 antibodies were found in blood samples collected in the United States in early January 2020.

The COVID-19 response in the United States is the worst in the world, Zhao said, adding that the U.S. government has not taken any investigative action in the face of waves of suspicions surrounding containment breaches from the biological laboratory at Fort Detrick and the clusters of unexplained cases of pneumonia in Maryland in 2019.

To date, over 18 million Chinese netizens have signed an open letter calling on the WHO to investigate Fort Detrick. "If the United States truly intends to support studies of origins, then it should respond to the call, demonstrate its openness and transparency, and let WHO experts conduct investigations in the United States," said Zhao.

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