Exclusive: China's great cooperation with WHO on virus origins tracing self-evident: WHO expert
The scientific way
Published: Jul 28, 2021 08:31 PM
 A sign of the World Health Organization at their headquarters in Geneva. Photo: VCG

 WHO.  Photo: VCG

China has taken the lead and done a great job in cooperating with the World Health Organization(WHO) in tracing the origins of the SARS-CoV-2, and it is unfair and unjust if the international community continues to only focus on China over the issue while hyping the "lab leakage" conspiracy without evidence, said Lei Ruipeng, an expert at the School of Philosophy and Center for Bioethics at the Wuhan-based Huazhong University of Science and Technology, and member of the WHO Ethics and COVID-19 Working Group, in an exclusive interview with the Global Times.     

Lei Ruipeng Photo: Courtesy of Lei

Lei Ruipeng, member of the WHO Ethics and COVID-19 Working Group, and expert at Huazhong University of Science and Technology. Photo: Courtesy of Lei

Lei's remarks came as Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the WHO, outlined a plan recently for a second phase of investigation in the origins of coronavirus targeting China, including a proposal for "audits of relevant laboratories and research institutions operating in the area of the initial human cases identified in December 2019." 

The proposal was rejected by Zeng Yixin, deputy director of China's National Health Commission, saying it "disregards common sense and defies science."

Lei said that virus origins tracing is a complex scientific issue that requires international cooperation. China has taken the lead and opened the country for a WHO delegation. It would be unfair and unjust to only focus on China while other countries, such as the US where the epidemic is severe and suspicious cases had been reported before the pandemic emerged, still refused to cooperate.

"It took decades to find that the 1918 influenza pandemic was similar to H1N1. And the exact origins of the outbreak are still in question," Lei noted. 

Lei and some other Chinese research fellows published an online essay in Bioethics Forum hosted by the Hastings Center and proposed four principles of the global joint investigation: Neutrality; Open, Fair, and Due Process; Action Against Discrimination; and Cooperation. 

The WHO-China study process established an unprecedented tracing and origins investigation. I believe the report that was released at the end of March is an important step forward, but more needs to be done to comply with the four basic principles. I also believe future global collaborations by multiple stakeholders to investigate and combat COVID-19 and emerging pandemics - including meaningful engagement from China - are key to our common improved welfare, Lei told the Global Times. 

As to the WHO's concerns over information transparency, Lei said that China has launched Biosafety Law and regulation on the oversight of human genetic resources, and it is legitimate for Chinese authorities to share information with international experts during the outbreak of COVID-19 and joint investigation in Wuhan but refuse to allow them to take these specimens and tissue samples outside China. And any other country, such as the US, has similar laws and would do the same.   

Lei also noted that the WHO's second-stage plan has deviated from a roadmap they released in 2020 and distorted the key point of the virus origins tracing work due to unknown reason.

Speaking at a WHO press briefing in May, Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, said that the whole process of origins tracing is being poisoned by politics. Ryan called on everyone to "separate, if they can, the politics of this issue (COVID-19 origin study) from the science."

Not only the virus origins issue, the Western world has also been politicizing other issues related to COVID-19, such as epidemic-controlling strategies, against China since they themselves failed to bring their domestic epidemics under control, Lei said.

The WHO in February 2020 released A Coordinated Global Research Roadmap on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, in which experts identified key knowledge gaps and research priorities and shared scientific data on ongoing research, thereby accelerating the generation of critical scientific information to contribute to the control of the COVID-19 emergency and prevent similar disasters in the future.

A member of WHO's team investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease  pandemic gives a thumbs-up in front of cameras after visiting the Huanan seafood wholesale market in Wuhan, East China's Hubei Province, on January 31. Photo: IC

A member of the WHO-China joint team studying?the origins of the coronavirus gives a thumbs-up in front of cameras in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province, on January 31. Photo: IC

According to a WHO document obtained by the Global Times, when the WHO at that time clearly deemed that the 2019-nCoV is a zoonotic virus. They have given some evidences to support the conclusion, including epidemiological evidence of the exposures of some initial cases and results of environmental sampling in the Huanan Seafood and live animal market. 

The Biden administration has even demanded the US intelligence agencies to conduct an investigation in 90 days on if the coronavirus emerged from a laboratory, which Lei said is an impossible mission and absent of common sense.

As I said, virus origins tracing is a very complex scientific work, intelligence agency? 90 days? Unless they already got intelligence of where the virus came from, Lei said, noting that scientific issues related to the pandemic have totally been politicized and ideologicalized in the US.

Since the Biden administration ordered in May US intelligence agencies to report on COVID-19 origins within 90 days, several US scientists have been put at the center of the political storm. These scientists have been facing the suppression of some anti-China politicians. 

For example, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who advises Biden and leads National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been a target of the GOP. Elise Stefanik, the House Republicans conference chair, sent a fundraising email recently with the subject "Fire Fauci" and Senator Josh Hawley also tweeted that Fauci's recently released emails and investigative reporting about COVID-19 origins are shocking. The time has come for him to resign and for a full congressional investigation into the origins to take place, US media reports said.

Fauci on July 20 had a heated exchange with Senator Rand Paul at a Senate hearing after Paul accused Fauci of lying to Congress about the role the National Institutes of Health played in funding research in Wuhan, China.

"Senator Paul, you do not know what you're talking about, quite frankly, and I want to say that officially," Fauci declared, "You do not know what you're talking about."