Covid-19 origin tracing: Respect science, reject politicisation

Origin tracing is a scientific issue and should not be turned into a political weapon.

A photo taken on Feb 9 shows WHO members Peter Ben Embarek and Marion Koopmans at a news conference in Wuhan on a joint study of the origins of the coronavirus. PHOTO: REUTERS

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 more than a year ago, people from all over the world have been helping each other and making tremendous efforts to battle the pandemic.

Today, with the pandemic still raging and the virus continuously mutating, the fight against the virus remains a top priority. Covid-19 is the common enemy of mankind.

Only through solidarity and joint response can countries defeat it.

Exploring the origin, transmission and evolution of the virus is an important part of the Covid-19 response. At the opening ceremony of the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA) last year, China's President Xi Jinping called for continued international support for global research by scientists on the source and transmission routes of the virus.

After the 73rd WHA adopted the relevant resolution, China took the lead in working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) by inviting WHO experts to China twice for joint origin-tracing studies.

Based on the joint studies, in late March, the WHO officially released the joint study report, WHO-convened Global Study Of Origins Of Sars-CoV-2: China Part, which reached scientific and authoritative conclusions, including the extreme unlikeliness of virus introduction through a laboratory incident, the necessity of the continued search for possible early cases on a broader global scale and further exploration of the role of the cold chain and frozen food in the transmission of the virus.

This constitutes the basis for the next phase of global origin-tracing efforts. It should be respected and implemented by all parties, including the WHO secretariat.

However, the WHO secretariat has recently put forward a work plan on the next phase of investigation into the origins of Covid-19 without consultation with member states.

This plan is not based on the WHO-China joint study report and has not adopted the scientific conclusions and recommendations in the report, which naturally leads to questioning and opposition by many member states.

More than 70 countries have declared their opposition to the politicisation of the origin-tracing issue and shown their support for the WHO-China joint study report by writing to the WHO director-general, issuing statements or sending diplomatic notes. More than 30 countries have raised objections to or reservations about the WHO secretariat's plan.

More than 300 political parties, civil society organisations and think-tanks from over 100 countries and regions have submitted a joint statement to the WHO secretariat, calling on the WHO to carry out origin-tracing studies objectively and impartially and firmly opposing politicisation of the origin-tracing issue. These voices of justice must be heeded.

The WHO is led by member states. Its secretariat should engage in extensive consultation with member states on the plans for global origin tracing and fully respect their views.

When it comes to origin tracing in certain countries, consultation with the countries concerned is the prerequisite for making any plan, as this is the basis for effective cooperation.

China has been supporting science-based origin tracing and will continue to be a part of it. However, China opposes any origin-tracing attempt that runs contrary to the WHA resolution or abandons conclusions and recommendations of the WHO-China joint study report.

It is not the Sars-CoV-2 virus but the political virus that calls for more vigilance. Last year, the United States openly called the Sars-CoV-2 virus "Wuhan virus", causing a rise in hate crimes against Asians in many parts of the world.

The US outrageously withdrew from the WHO at a time when the global fight against Covid-19 was at its most critical moment and when the WHO was in dire need of funds.

The US has hyped the "lab leak theory", which presumes guilt, falsely accused China of lab leaks and spread rumours of illness of three employees in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, yet it failed to offer any evidence for these allegations.

In total disregard for the professional research of scientists, the US has instructed intelligence agencies to carry out the so-called origin-tracing investigation.

All these actions show that the US has been trying to use origin tracing as a tool to shift responsibility for its own botched pandemic response and discredit other countries. If such practices and rumours continue unchecked, the political virus will disrupt the global Covid-19 response and split the international community.

Origin tracing is a scientific issue. It should be carried out by scientists based on evidence.

Although China was the first to notify of the outbreak, several scientific studies, such as those by researchers in Europe and Brazil, point to signs of the virus having emerged in many places in the world before China's notification.

These lend support to the conclusion that the virus may have multiple origins.

We hope that the relevant countries will, like China, cooperate with the WHO in an open, transparent and scientific manner to trace the origins of the disease and make their due contribution to promoting global anti-epidemic cooperation and saving more lives.

The international community's top priority remains working together to control the pandemic, restore economic growth and safeguard people's livelihoods, in particular, facilitating fair and equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to developing countries.

Throughout this year, China will strive to provide two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines to the world.

China has also decided to donate US$100 million (S$136 million) to Covax for the distribution of vaccines to developing countries.

It is believed that with our joint efforts, the pandemic will come to an end and humanity will embrace a better tomorrow.

  • Zhang Xumin is the charge d'affaires, ad interim, of the Chinese Embassy in Singapore.

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