Covid Origins Probe: China rejects WHO’s call
China yesterday rejected the World Health Organization's calls for a renewed probe into the origins of Covid-19, saying it supported "scientific" over "political" efforts to find out how the virus started.
Pressure is once more mounting on Beijing to consider a fresh probe into the orgins of a pandemic which has killed more than four million people and paralysed economies worldwide since it first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
A delayed and heavily politicised vist by a WHO team of international experts went to Wuhan in January 2021 to produce a first phase report, which was written in conjunction with their Chinese counterparts. It failed to conclude how the virus began.
On Thursday the WHO urged China to share raw data from the earliest Covid-19 cases to revive its probe into the origins of the disease.
China hit back, repeating its position that the initial investigation was enough and that calls for further data were motivated by politics instead of scientific inquiry.
"We oppose political tracing ... and abandoning the joint report" issued after the WHO expert team's Wuhan visit in January, vice foreign minister Ma Zhaoxu told reporters. "We support scientific tracing."
That report said the virus jumping from bats to humans via an intermediate animal was the most probable scenario, while a leak from Wuhan's virology labs was "extremely unlikely".
Ma rejected suggestions of new lines of investigation.
"The conclusions and recommendations of WHO and China joint report were recognised by the international community and the scientific community," he said.
"Future global traceability work should and can only be further carried out on the basis of this report, rather than starting a new one."
Meanwhile, Danish scientist Peter Ben Embarek, who led the international mission to Wuhan, said a lab employee infected while taking samples in the field falls under one of the likely hypotheses as to how the virus passed from bats to humans.
He told the Danish public channel TV2 that the suspect bats were not from the Wuhan region and the only people likely to have approached them were workers from the Wuhan labs.
Ben Embarek previously acknowledged in an interview with Science magazine that "politics was always in the room with us" during the Wuhan trip, which was mired in delays after China initially stalled approval for the international researchers' entry.
Chinese health officials, meanwhile, said yesterday they were bringing the country's worst Covid outbreak in months under control after new infections hit a seven-month high earlier this week.
Multiple cluster outbreaks of the highly contagious Delta variant have spread to 48 cities in 18 provinces nationwide, infecting more than 1,282 people, officials said.
However there had been no new infections in many hotspots in recent days owing to stringent virus control measures, they added.
"Of these 48 cities, 36 have not reported any new infections in the past five consecutive days," Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention official He Qinghua told reporters.
Israelis aged 50 and over began receiving vaccine booster shots against the coronavirus yesterday as the government steps up its drive to stem spiking infections caused by the Delta variant, reports AFP.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, 56, rolled up the sleeve of his black polo shirt before a nurse plunged a syringe into his arm in Kfar Saba's Meir Medical Center north of Tel Aviv.
The United States on Thursday authorised an extra dose of Covid vaccine for people with weakened immune systems, as the country struggles to thwart the Delta variant.
Emergency use authorisation for a third injection of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines was granted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulator.
South Korea yesterday signed a deal to buy 30 million doses of Pfizer's (PFE.N) Covid-19 vaccine for 2022, and the government urged people to cut holiday travel amid a worsening fourth wave of infections and a slow inoculation campaign.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum asked companies to be flexible about allowing people to work from home and urged those returning from holiday to get tested, especially before clocking in for work.
Russia yesterday recorded its highest daily coronavirus death toll for a second day running, even as the country's outbreak epicentre Moscow lifted some restrictions. A government tally showed 815 Covid-19 fatalities over the past 24 hours and 22,277 new cases.
Hundreds more defence personnel will deploy next week to Sydney to help enforce the city's lockdown after authorities yesterday reported the biggest daily rise in cases from the outbreak which is spreading beyond Australia's largest city, reports Reuters.
"Unfortunately, this trend (in cases) will continue for at least the next few days," New South Wales (NSW) state premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, the state capital.