Conspiracy theories, smears rise ahead of WHO experts’ China visit
China welcomes probe with transparent attitude
Published: Jan 12, 2021 03:38 PM

An exterior view of the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. (Xinhua/Liu Qu)

Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) will fly from Singapore to China on Thursday to work with Chinese experts to investigate the origin of COVID-19, the Chinese foreign ministry announced on Tuesday. 

The visit, which comes as China is under huge pressure from imported COVID-19 cases and a domestic virus resurgence, shows the country has always been dedicated to making its contribution to the global fight against the pandemic with a transparent, responsible attitude and a spirit of respect for science, experts said. 

Tuesday's announcement is a fresh slap on the face for some politicians - for example, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - who still refuse to give up their smears against China and have been seeking every chance to attack China for concealing information about the outbreak. Such attempts could be seen in particular ahead of the WHO experts' visit. 

On Tuesday morning, Pompeo said in a tweet that the WHO was corrupted by China's influence, and it was bought cheap. The WHO investigation still can't access Wuhan, he said. 

This apparently was a shoddy public stunt as the WHO said in December that a team of 10 international scientists would travel to Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province, in January to investigate the origins of COVID-19. 

Moreover, the Chinese foreign ministry reiterated that it has never set any obstacles for the WHO team. China invited WHO experts twice in February and again in July 2020, despite its heavy domestic epidemic prevention and control work. Chinese experts and international experts also held four video exchanges from October to December, the ministry said. 

Another accusation coming ahead of the WHO experts' visit was from The Mail on Sunday, a sister newspaper of Daily Mail, which claimed that hundreds of pages of information relating to studies carried out by the top-secret Wuhan Institute of Virology had been wiped from the state-run National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC). 

"Details of more than 300 studies, including many investigating diseases that pass from animals to humans, published online by the NSFC are no longer available. The deletion of key evidence has reignited fears that China is trying to whitewash the investigation into the origins of the virus," the report said. 

The Global Times found such an accusation vague and untenable. The NSFC is responsible for directing and coordinating the national natural science fund to support basic research, and for identifying and fostering scientific talent. It is also responsible for promoting international cooperation. The foundation is not directly involved in science studies.

Chinese experts stressed that tracing the coronavirus' origin is a scientific issue and should not be politicized. Any conspiracy theories should be avoided. The purpose of the WHO team is to conduct scientific exchanges with Chinese medical scientists, not an "investigation" or "review" of China.

"It is okay for WHO experts to come to Wuhan as we also want to know where the virus came from and what the source was. But the investigation should also be carried out in other countries, especially in the US, where the virus has been identified with multiple types, to achieve more accurate results," Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Tuesday.  

All the noise that tries to divert public attention will not cover up the truth that other countries potentially had COVID-19 outbreaks earlier than Wuhan, and investigations should be carried out there as soon as possible, Yang said. 

In the latest finding, a woman in Milan, Italy tested positive for the new coronavirus in November 2019, researchers have found, making her the earliest known patient in Italy to date, local media reported on Monday, citing a researcher in dermatology at the University of Milan, who believes she could be "the dermatological Italian patient zero."