Proposed second phase of Covid-19 probe must follow science and protocol

It's definitely is a malicious plot to pin down China as the cause of the pandemic through the so-called lab leak theory.

In Summary

•At the end of March, WHO published a definitive 120-page report stating that an animal vector was the most likely source of Covid-19.

•The new plan is inconsistent with the resolution of the 73rd WHA and the conclusions and recommendations of the joint WHO-China study report.

Peter Ben Embarek, and other members of the WHO team that was tasked with probing the origins of the Covid-19, arrive at the Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China February 10, 2021.
Peter Ben Embarek, and other members of the WHO team that was tasked with probing the origins of the Covid-19, arrive at the Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China February 10, 2021.
Image: Reuters

Recent news that the World Health Organization (WHO) has proposed a second phase in a bid to unearth the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic in China did not only get many people by surprise, it also created confusion about the real intentions for backtracking on a report that had already been adopted.

What was not surprising, however, is where this bombshell was most likely coming from. Obviously, it had to be the US and its powerful Western allies. It definitely is a malicious albeit desperate plot to pin down China as the cause of the pandemic through the so-called lab leak theory, as represented by the Wuhan laboratory from where the coronavirus allegedly escaped from.

At the end of March, WHO published a definitive 120-page report stating that an animal vector was the most likely source of Covid-19 from where it jumped into human beings through a yet to be identified means. Although WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement that there was still room for more scientific research, it was basically deemed that any further studies would centre on the means of animal to human transmission, and how to stop the next pandemic on its tracks before it spreads.

The fact is that the new plan was put forward unilaterally by the WHO Secretariat without getting the approval of all member states, of which WHO is comprised of. It is clear that member states did not discuss this issue in order to facilitate full consultation and decision-making that would be legitimate.

The spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of People's Republic of China, Zhao Lijian, observed a few crucial things that had cast a shadow on the strange proposal. “Since the outbreak of Covid-19, China has all along attached high importance to studies into the origins of the virus.

“We've actively participated in global cooperation in this area with an open and science-based attitude. We've twice invited WHO experts to China for joint research in origin-tracing. We've invested tremendous efforts, achieved important outcomes and reached authoritative conclusions.”

The new plan was put forward unilaterally by the WHO Secretariat without getting the approval of all member states.
HEADQUARTERS: The new plan was put forward unilaterally by the WHO Secretariat without getting the approval of all member states.
Image: REUTERS

The new plan is inconsistent with the resolution of the 73rd WHA and the conclusions and recommendations of the joint WHO-China study report. It is instructive that 60 countries have written to the WHO Director General saying that they welcome the joint WHO-China study report and reject politicisation of origin studies.

Contrary to what China’s enemies would have the world believe, the country is not averse to more studies on the origin of coronavirus. But this must be done in an open and scientific manner and led by the people who experienced the pandemic first hand.

In a press conference, spokesperson Zhao gave the direction which this can effectively be achieved as follows:

  • It should be guided by the WHA resolution, rely mainly on scientists, and conduct evidence-based scientific research. The joint WHO-China study report's conclusions and recommendations have been widely recognized by the international community and the science community.
  • The key focus of the second phase should be on possible pathways identified as "very likely" and "likely" by the joint report including introduction through an intermediate host or cold chain products. Efforts should be made to advance origins study in various countries and regions across the world.
  • There should be assessment and analysis of existing research outcomes and new evidence. The regions to be covered by the second phase and the work plan should be determined after comprehensive assessment based on open research evidence. Research in epidemiology, animal products, environmental and molecular epidemiology should be continued to reinforce rather than repeat existing work or tasks that have already been covered.
  • Additional experts from other areas can be added to the original team in an appropriate manner if there is indeed such a need. This will not only help maintain continuity of the research but also ensure the authority and impartiality of the next phase of studies.
"We firmly reject origin-tracing based on politics."
Zhao Lijian, MoFA spokesperson: "We firmly reject origin-tracing based on politics."

“We should let scientists get to the bottom of this virus so as to get better prepared for future risks. We firmly reject origin-tracing based on politics,” concluded Zhao in his presser.

A media report published on August 2 by CGTN revealed that more than 300 political parties, organisations and think tanks from over 100 countries and regions submitted a joint statement to the WHO Secretariat, opposing the politicisation of the Covid-19 origins study.

The statement stressed that Covid-19 poses a serious threat to the safety and health of mankind and called on the international community to strengthen cooperation in fighting the virus. The political parties also urged WHO to conduct research on global tracing for Covid-19 origins in an objective and fair manner.

The writer is the Executive Director of South-South Dialogues, a Nairobi based research and development communication think tank.