China has repeated its assertion the theory that the Covid-19 pandemic began with a leak from a Chinese laboratory is “a politically motivated lie”, after the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended continued investigations this week.
“The lab leak theory is totally a lie concocted by anti-China forces for political purposes, which has nothing to do with science,” the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing on Friday.
“We always supported and participated in science-based global virus tracing, but we firmly opposed any forms of political manipulation,” Zhao said, while attempting to shift the blame to the US, and claiming – without evidence – that Washington was developing the coronavirus as a bioweapon.
The latest round of the war of words over the origin of the pandemic also put a renewed focus on the data from China, where the first case of the virus was reported in the city of Wuhan in late 2019.
On Thursday, the WHO said in a report that all available data showed the novel coronavirus that caused Covid-19 probably came from animals, most likely bats, a similar conclusion to the UN agency’s previous work on the topic in 2021 that followed a trip to China.
It said no new information had been provided on the possibility that Sars-CoV-2 was introduced to humans through a laboratory incident and “it remains important to consider all reasonable scientific data” to evaluate this possibility.
It said “key pieces of data” to explain how the pandemic began were still missing and it was not possible to identify exactly how the virus was first transmitted to humans.
The UN’s top health agency revealed that its director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, wrote to the Chinese government twice in February this year to pursue more information, and China had provided some data on request.
Scientists say it is important to establish what exactly happened in 2019 in order to prevent similar outbreaks in the future. But investigations into the origins of the pandemic, which has killed millions of people globally, have been dogged by political wrangling between China and a number of western countries in the last two years.
Experts fear time is running out. “The longer it takes, the harder it becomes,” Maria Van Kerkhove, a senior WHO official, said on Thursday, adding her agency would support all ongoing efforts to better understand how the pandemic began.
“We owe it to ourselves, we owe to the millions of people who died and the billions of people who were infected,” Van Kerkhove said.
The WHO has in recent months been increasingly vocal about China’s method in handling the pandemic. Last month, it called Beijing’s “zero-Covid” policy “unsustainable”, pointing to increased knowledge of the virus and the cost to the economy and civil rights. China rejected the criticism as “irresponsible”.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report