Amidst the deadly second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the origin of the virus has emerged as a topic of discord between the China and the World Health Organisation. This has served to compound the health emergency. Indeed, the discord has intensified a year after WHO was seen to be backing China’s version of events. President Xi Jinping’s government in Beijing on Thursday rejected the next stage of WHO’s plan to investigate the origins of the pandemic.
While availability of vaccines, oxygen, and treatment of the sick and the dying may seem to be of far greater moment than yet another phase of the probe into how the catastrophe originated, the importance of knowing what happened in Wuhan cannot be brushed aside. WHO now wants to audit laboratories in the area where the virus was first identified.
China’s deputy health minister, Zeng Yixin, said this showed “disrespect for common sense and arrogance towards science”. These positions are irreconciliable. WHO’s setback in the face of Beijing’s rejection of the proposal has intensified complications but also raised questions about Beijing’s reticence.
According to WHO, it was very unlikely the virus escaped from a Chinese lab, but the theory has endured. Investigators were able to visit Wuhan ~ the city where the virus was first detected in December 2019 ~ in January this year after weeks of Chinese stonewalling. Earlier this month, however, WHO’s Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, outlined the terms of the inquiry’s next phase. This included a survey of certain science research institutions. Dr Ghebreyesus has now appealed to China to be more cooperative about the early stages of the outbreak.
He has urged Beijing to “be transparent, to be open and cooperate” with investigators and provide what they call “raw patient data” that had not been shared during the first probe. For close to two years, the virus has lingered across nations with a deadly impact. China has dug its heels in if Mr Zeng Yixin’s statement is any indication.
Chiefly, China is surprised by WHO’s proposal because it focuses on alleged violations of laboratory protocols. China’s deputy health minister said it was “impossible” to accept the terms of the probe not the least because the country had submitted its own recommendations regarding the tracing of origins. “We hope WHO will get rid of political interference,” Mr Zeng is reported to have said. More than four million people have died worldwide since the start of the pandemic, and WHO has faced increasing international pressure to further investigate the origins of the virus.
On Thursday, the United States criticised China’s position as “irresponsible and dangerous”. Access was critical to help prevent the next pandemic, was the caveat of the White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki. President Biden had earlier this year ordered American intelligence officials to “redouble” their own investigative efforts into the pandemic. While WHO concurs, President Xi thinks differently. The discord has compounded one of the worst tragedies that humanity has suffered. Meanwhile, other countries have added numbers to their daily case loads that the Chinese have reported over the past year or more.