Chinese health officials rail against WHO, defend research for virus

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese health officials defended their search for the origin of the COVID-19 virus and lashed out at the World Health Organization on Saturday after its leader said Beijing should have shared genetic information earlier. .

The WHO’s comments were “insulting and disrespectful,” said director of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Shen Hongbing. He accused the WHO of “trying to smear China” and said it should avoid helping others “politicize COVID-19”. “

The global health body’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on March 17 that the newly revealed genetic material collected in Wuhan, central China, where the first cases were detected in late 2019, “should have been shared three Years ago”.

“As a responsible country and as scientists, we have always actively shared research results with scientists around the world,” Shen said at a news conference.

The origins of COVID-19 are still debated and at the center of bitter political disputes.

Many scientists believe it jumped from animals to humans at a market in Wuhan, but the city is also home to laboratories including China’s main virus collection facility. This suggested that COVID-19 may have leaked from one.

The ruling Communist Party has tried to deflect criticism of its handling of the outbreak by spreading uncertainty about its origins.

Officials have repeated anti-US conspiracy theories that the virus was created by Washington and smuggled into China. The government also says the virus may have entered China via mail or food shipments, although scientists overseas see no evidence to support this.

Chinese officials suppressed information about the 2019 Wuhan outbreak and punished a doctor who warned others about the new disease. The ruling party reversed course in early 2020 and blocked access to major cities and most international travel to contain the disease.

The genetic material cited by WHO’s Tedros was recently uploaded to a global database but collected in 2020 at a Wuhan market where wildlife was sold.

The samples show DNA from raccoon dogs mixed with the virus, scientists say. They say it adds evidence to the hypothesis that COVID-19 came from animals, not a lab, but it doesn’t settle the question of where it started. They say the virus may also have spread to raccoon dogs from humans.

The information was removed by Chinese officials from the database after foreign scientists asked the CDC about it, but it was copied by a French expert and shared with researchers outside of China.

A CDC researcher, Zhou Lei, who worked in Wuhan, said Chinese scientists “shared all the data we had” and “adhered to the principles of openness, objectivity and transparency.”

Shen said the scientists investigated the possibility of a lab leak and “fully shared our research and data without any cover-ups or reservations.”

Shen said the source of the COVID-19 has not yet been found, but noted that it has taken years to identify the AIDS virus and its origin is still unclear.

“Certain forces and figures who instigate and participate in politicizing the traceability issue and trying to smear China should not assume that the vision of the scientific community around the world will be blinded by their misguided manipulation,” said Shen.

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