Updated Jul 22, 2021 - Health

China's government rejects WHO plan for COVID origins study

 Zeng Yixin, Vice Minister of National Health Commission, Director of the vaccine R&D working group at a press conference in Beijing on December 31, 2020.

Zeng Yixin, Vice Minister of National Health Commission, and director of the vaccine R&D working group under the State Council's inter-agency task force, at a press conference in Beijing, China last December. Photo: Leo Ramirez/AFP via Getty Images

A top Chinese health official said Thursday the government doesn't accept World Health Organization plans for a follow-up investigation into COVID-19's origins — labeling a theory that it started from a laboratory leak a "rumor," per AP.

Why it matters: National Health Commission Vice Minister Zeng Yixin's comments come days after WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was "too early" to rule out the lab leak theory and proposed a second phase of study into the virus' origins.

What they're saying: Zeng said at a news conference he was "surprised" by a WHO proposal to revisit Wuhan, where the virus was first detected and where a group of researchers from the UN health body visited in January, Al Jazeera reports. He called the follow-up plan "not scientific."

  • "It is impossible for us to accept such an origin-tracing plan," he added, per AP.

Flashback: Tedros said last week that uncovering the coronavirus' origins was "a scientific exercise that must be kept free from politics," according to Reuters.

  • "For that to happen, we expect China to support this next phase of the scientific process by sharing all relevant data in a spirit of transparency," he said.

The big picture: The debate over the origins of the coronavirus has gained traction in recent months following previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill enough to be hospitalized in November 2019, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal in May.

  • The U.S. and other countries, along with some scientists, have demanded a follow-up investigation by the WHO.
  • President Biden said in May he had asked the American intelligence community to "redouble their efforts" to investigate the virus' origins.

Go deeper: Why we need to know COVID's origins

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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