Coronavirus | China pushes to expand virus origin search beyond its border

It rejects charges that Beijing limited WHO’s access to data

Chinese health officials pushed on Wednesday to expand the search for the origins of the novel coronavirus beyond China, one day after the release of a closely watched World Health Organization report on the issue.

They also rejected criticism that China did not give enough data to a WHO team of international experts that visited Wuhan, the Chinese city where the first cases were detected, earlier this year.

“If we limit the study of origin within China, I think this is a scientific misunderstanding, because the source is still unclear,” said Liang Wannian, the head of the Chinese team that worked with the WHO group of experts.

He said the experts agreed that the place where the first case was identified is not necessarily where the virus emerged. “Based on this scientific consensus, we should have a broader viewpoint in terms of sourcing,” he said.

Experts agree that the virus could have come from elsewhere, with neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia a prime possibility, but China’s insistence on broadening the research seems partly politically motivated in the face of Western criticism.

The WHO report concluded that the virus or a progenitor of it was most likely carried by a bat, which infected another animal that infected a human.

Researchers have not been able to trace the bat or the intermediate animal yet, but suspicion has fallen on bat habitats in southwest China or nearby Southeast Asia.

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