A day after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a launch of an expert group to study the origins of COVID-19, China on Thursday warned against "political manipulation" of the fresh investigation by the global health body.
This statement comes after the WHO launched an expert group on Wednesday that will study the origins of new pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the news during his press briefing from Geneva, "following a public call for experts."
"China will continue to support and participate in global scientific origins-tracing and firmly oppose any form of political manipulation," said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said during a press conference on Thursday.
"We hope that all parties concerned, including the WHO Secretariat and SAGO will adopt an objective, scientific and responsible attitude, follow the requirements and relevant mandates of the WHA resolution, take the first phase of the joint study as the basis, adhere to a global perspective, perform their duties in an objective and fair manner, and truly make a positive contribution to global origins-tracing and anti-epidemic cooperation," he added.
The proposed members of the WHO Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) were selected for their expertise in areas such as epidemiology, animal health, clinical medicine, virology and genomics. The 26 experts were selected from over 700 applications and were chosen for their world-class expertise and experience in a range of disciplines, as well as their geographic and gender diversity.
"SAGO will advise WHO on the development of a global framework to define and guide studies into the origins of emerging and re-emerging pathogens with epidemic and pandemic potential, including SARS-CoV-2," he said.
"The emergence of new viruses with the potential to spark epidemics and pandemics is a fact of nature, and while SARS-CoV-2 is the latest such virus, it will not be the last."
Answering a question, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead on COVID-19, had stated that SAGO will recommend further studies in China, and potentially elsewhere, to understand the origins of the new coronavirus, UN News reported.
While SAGO will advise WHO, any future missions will be organized by the UN agency and the country in question. "I want to make it very clear that the SAGO is not the next mission team. There's been some misrepresentation about that going forward," she said.
A WHO-led team of scientists that travelled to China in early 2021 to investigate the origins of the virus struggled to get a clear picture of what research China was conducting beforehand, faced constraints during its visit, and had little power to conduct thorough and impartial research.