COVID-19: WHO chief proposes second China probe into virus's origins - including audit of Wuhan labs

·2-min read

The World Health Organisation (WHO) wants to launch a second investigation into the origins of COVID in China, including audits of Wuhan laboratories.

It comes after the WHO's director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said there had been a "premature push" to rule out a theory that the virus escaped from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan, where the first human infections were discovered in late 2019.

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Dr Tedros has now presented proposals for a second phase of studies in China, which would include investigations into laboratories.

However, there has been no sign that Beijing would accept another international probe, diplomats have said.

A WHO-led team spent four weeks in and around the central city of Wuhan with Chinese researchers in January.

The teams said in a joint report in March that the virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal.

They also said that a laboratory leak - a theory that was pushed heavily by the White House when Donald Trump was president - was "extremely unlikely".

Other countries including the UK and US, as well as some scientists, have since demanded further investigation, particularly into the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was conducting research into bats.

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At the time of the report, the WHO did not announce plans for further studies in countries other than China.

Dr Tedros said on Thursday that laboratory accidents "happen" and are "common", as he called on China to be more transparent about the origins of the virus.

He also admitted that investigations were being hampered by the lack of raw data on the first days of the spread of coronavirus in China.

Chinese officials have called the theory that the virus may have escaped from a Wuhan laboratory "absurd" and said repeatedly that "politicising" the issue would hamper investigations.

At a regular news briefing on Friday, when asked about Dr Tedros's comments, China's foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said some data was unable to be copied or leave China as it involved personal information.

China's mission to the UN in Geneva did not respond to a request for comment.

But the mission did issue a statement on Thursday night saying that 48 developing countries had written to the WHO calling for the "global study on origin-tracing" to be guided by science and not by politics.

"For quite some time, a handful of countries, led by the US, have been stigmatizing the epidemic, putting a geographical label on the virus and politicizing the origins study," it said.