China has called on other nations to follow their example and allow for a coronavirus origins investigation in a “cooperative manner”.
On Tuesday evening a team of scientists led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) released their initial findings following a four-week stay in Wuhan, the city where Covid-19 cases first exploded at the beginning of the pandemic.
And while expectedly there were no concrete conclusions from their visit, experts all but dismissed the theory the virus had leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Scientists also said part of the investigations now need to focus outside of the city and possibly over the Chinese border, particularly nations, predominantly in South East Asia, where the Huanan Seafood Market sourced its meat and livestock from.
Beijing and Chinese state media have repeatedly pushed the concept the virus emerged outside of China and well before cases began to emerge at the end of 2019 in Wuhan.
However their obsessive behaviour over such a theory has drawn the ire of other nations who have accused China of attempting to deflect blame over their handling of the pandemic in its infancy.
Experts have thrown caution to the wind over peddling such a claim, studies saying the virus may have been circulating in Europe months before are inconclusive, while German epidemiologist Alexander Kekule branded such a stance was “pure propaganda” from China.
NSW Health Pathology infectious disease expert Professor Dominic Dwyer, who was on the mission in Wuhan, told Nine News on Wednesday he believed the virus originated in China and there was “very limited” evidence to suggest it didn’t.
China calls on world to be ‘transparent’
Yet on Wednesday evening, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin once again entertained the idea and said it was vital other countries adopt “the same open and transparent attitude as China”.
He singled out the US, a nation which it has peddled baseless claims against, saying its army had brought the virus to Wuhan in 2019.
“We wish that the US side can, like China, uphold an open and transparent attitude, and be able to invite WHO experts to the US to conduct origin tracing research and inspection,” Mr Wang said.
He said there were “more and more” reports of the virus emerging outside of China and it was essential the WHO visited these countries.
“We also hope that following China’s example, relevant parties will act in a positive, science-based and cooperative manner on the origin-tracing issue, invite WHO experts in for an origin-tracing study, and make contributions to international cooperation in fighting the pandemic and building a global community of health for all.”
Mr Wang’s calls will undoubtedly rile Beijing’s detractors following the criticism China has faced over the Wuhan mission from around the world.
Beijing was reluctant to give the green light to an investigation which it claims was becoming politicised by other nations, including Australia who felt the wrath of China after Prime Minister Scott Morrison led the early calls for an independent investigation.
The mission came 12 months after the initial outbreak and was tightly controlled by Beijing who have faced allegations it covered up the severity of the pandemic when it first broke out.
President Xi Jinping has been desperate to repair China’s damaged image in the wake of the pandemic, desperate to convince the rest of the world it was not to blame for the pandemic despite some nations heaping the blame directly on China.
Families of those who died from the virus in Wuhan claim they have been silenced by authorities while even the WHO, who were accused of succumbing to Chinese pressure by the US, criticised delays to the investigation in its build up.
Outspoken Nationals senator Matt Canavan on Wednesday lashed out at China for its response to the investigation.
“Through this whole process China has acted like it had something to hide and it has frustrated the inquiry, dragged it out,” he told Nine on Wednesday.
“It's not really any surprise that a year on, or over a year, that it's become too hard to find the origin. We needed this inquiry to start pretty much straight away if it was any hope of finding conclusions – and it hasn't.”
Prof Dwyer told the ABC the mission had become “complicated and very tense”.
In addition to ruling out a lab leak, lead scientist Peter Ben Embarek said frozen food could possibly be a means of transmitting the virus, which would support a theory backed by Beijing, which has blamed some case clusters on imported food packaging.
However Richard Ebright, professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, called the theory “amateurishly, laughably crude propaganda”.
“The ‘cold chain, frozen products’ hypothesis is only just barely plausible as an explanation for re-introduction of SARS-CoV-2 infection into low-incidence countries in recent months when there have been 25+ million active cases worldwide,” he said.
He too lambasted the mission, suggesting China’s control had not allowed for “meaningful access or investigation”.
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