BEIJING – Chinese health officials defended their quest for the source of the COVID-19 virus and slammed the World Health Organization on Saturday after its chairman suggested Beijing should have disclosed genetic information sooner.
The WHO comments were “offensive and disrespectful,” according to Shen Hongbing, director of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
He accused the WHO of “attempting to smear China” and urged it to refrain from assisting others in “politicizing COVID-19.” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-
general of the World Health Organization, stated on March 17 that newly disclosed genetic evidence acquired in Wuhan, central China, where the first cases were discovered 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 worldwide,” Shen said at a news conference. The origins of COVID-19 are still being contested and are the subject of heated political controversy.
Many scientists assume it transferred from animals to humans at a market in Wuhan, but the city also houses laboratories, including China’s top virus collection facility. This spurred speculation that COVID-19 may have leaked from one of them.
By generating doubt about the disease’s roots, the ruling Communist Party has attempted to divert criticism of its handling of the outbreak. Officials have promoted anti-US conspiracy beliefs that the virus was manufactured and brought into China by Washington.
The government also claims that the virus may have entered China via mail or food shipments, but scientists elsewhere see no evidence to corroborate this claim.
In 2019, Chinese authorities withheld information about the Wuhan outbreak and prosecuted a doctor who alerted others about the new disease.
To manage the sickness, the ruling party switched course in early 2020, shutting down access to major cities and most international travel.
The genetic material mentioned by Tedros was recently uploaded to a global database, yet it was obtained in 2020 at a Wuhan market where animals was traded.
Scientists believe the samples indicate DNA from raccoon dogs mixed up with the virus. They claim that this lends evidence to the theory that COVID-
19 originated in animals rather than laboratories, but it does not answer the question of where it originated.
They believe the virus may have transferred from humans to raccoon dogs. The material was removed from the database by Chinese officials after foreign scientists inquired about it, but it had been copied by a French specialist and shared with researchers outside China.
Zhou Lei, a CDC researcher based in Wuhan, stated that Chinese scientists “shared all the data we had” and “adhered to principles of openness, objectivity, and transparency.” Scientists explored the likelihood of a laboratory leak, according to Shen, and “fully shared our research and data without any concealment or reservation.” Shen stated that the origins of COVID-
19 had yet to be discovered, but he observed that it took years to detect the AIDS virus, and its origin is still unknown.
“Some forces and figures who instigate and participate in politicizing the traceability issue and attempting to smear China should not assume that their clumsy manipulation will blind the vision of the scientific community around the world,” Shen added.