Thursday, June 17, 2021

US, China Engage In Fresh ‘War Of Words’ Over Probe Into Coronavirus Origins

The US and China are now engaged in a fresh war of words after President Joe Biden called for a further probe into the origins of coronavirus or the Covid-19. 

There have been allegations and theories mostly floated by the West that the deadly Coronavirus originated in a lab in China’s Wuhan since last year, but nothing has been scientifically established yet.  

The US seems unconvinced with earlier probe reports and has urged the World Health Organization (WHO) for a fresh investigation. It has also sought cooperation from China in the research.

However, Beijing continues to emphasize its commitment to an open study and blames the US for unnecessarily politicizing the probe into the origins of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Biden has asked the US national laboratories to delve deeper into the investigation of the origins of the virus. He also urged China to cooperate with international agencies.

Biden pointed out that the international community collectively believes that the origins of the Coronavirus are linked to either of the two scenarios — natural cause or the lab theory.

He pointed out that studies from two of the 18 intelligence agencies favor an animal link, while one puts its weight behind the lab theory.

Responding to domestic and geopolitical concerns, the Biden administration is putting the question to China to come clean on the outbreak. Reaffirming its commitment to work with other countries, it will ask China to participate in international investigations, and expects it to provide the relevant data and evidence.

At the ongoing 74th World Health Assembly, the US has urged independent and international experts to conduct a new round of studies. An earlier report by the Wall Street Journal citing an unidentified US intelligence report had indicated a sickness, quite similar to Covid-19 and also common seasonal flu in three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, in November 2019. This has reignited the debate around the lab-leak theory of Coronavirus.

Former US President Donald Trump had ruffled many feathers in China by repeatedly calling Coronavirus a ‘Chinese virus’ and endorsed the view that the virus may have accidentally escaped from a laboratory and not through natural causes, that is a human coming in contact with an infected animal.

Demand For A Global Study

China’s state-owned Global Times reported quoting Dutch Virologist Marion Koopmans as saying that a follow-up trip to Wuhan would be helpful to obtain more information on the origins of Coronavirus.

Koopmans was a member of the WHO-China joint team studying the origins of the pandemic and had traveled to Wuhan, the capital of Hebei Province.

According to Koopmans, such a follow-up study should start where the WHO-China team left, and then combine it with other studies in China and abroad. One such example is areas like Northern Italy, where viral sequences, dating back to early 2019 have been found.

Koopmans emphasized the need for more surveys of bats, found particularly in China’s neighboring countries. A joint WHO-China report had also suggested a detailed study on animals in livestock farms across Southeast Asia, to understand the linkages between the earliest human cases of the virus.

‘WSJ Report Politically-Motivated’

Meanwhile, Chinese experts from the WHO-China joint team termed the latest WSJ report politically motivated. They said the report is part of the US government’s repeated efforts to shift the blame on China.

They told Global Times that many international experts of the joint WHO-China team have been under a lot of “political pressure”. However, they did not elaborate on the source of such political pressure and believed it could be coming from multiple countries.

China claimed the pressure started building up since Biden came to power. Feng Zijing, Deputy Director-General of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, also an expert on the joint WHO-China team, said on March 26, that the source-tracing work of the WHO-China team in Wuhan has been finalized with a consensus.

He added that scientific work of this magnitude cannot be done in haste as it requires efforts on a global scale. 

On its part, China urged the US to invite WHO experts to the US and give others access to the Fort Detrick and its overseas bio-labs and to come clean on the unexplained respiratory disease outbreaks in northern Virginia in July 2019 and the EVALI outbreak in Wisconsin.

Located in Frederick, Maryland, Fort Detrick is a US military installation that is believed to be undertaking research on ‘biological weapons’.  

Anupama Ghosh contributed to the story

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