BEIJING: China has agreed to support and participate in the World Health Organization's (WHO) fresh probe to trace the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic that has globally infected 21.9 crore people while claiming 45.5 lakh lives.
The WHO, this week, launched a new task force – Scientific Advisory Group on the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) – of 26 global experts, and called it "the last chance" to find the Covid origins.
It is nearly two years since the virus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, yet the question of how it first emerged remains unclear. Several studies/probes into the origins from scientists, governments, and independent groups have not yet solved whether the virus jumped from animals to humans in Wuhan markets or leaked in a lab accident.
While China, since the beginning has strongly refuted the lab leak theory, its Foreign Ministry said the country will "continue to support and participate in" (the probe), the South China Morning Post quoted it as saying.
At the same time, Beijing has also called on the global health body to uphold an "objective, scientific" approach, stating that it will oppose any political manipulation", the report said.
"China will continue to support and participate in the global scientific origins tracing, and resolutely oppose any form of political manipulation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian was quoted as saying on Thursday.
Zhao also appeared to leave the door open to future field missions in the country, the report said.
A joint WHO-China inquiry, whose findings were released in March this year, had dismissed the possibility that the virus had emerged accidentally from a laboratory as "extremely unlikely".
Undermining its own report, Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in July, proposed a second phase of studies in Wuhan, which includes audits of laboratories and markets in the city, citing that the investigation had been hampered by a lack of data and transparency from China.
On Thursday, Zhao said that the first probe should be the foundation for future work and "adhere to a global perspective," the SCMP reported. China had, initially, rejected the second probe accusing the WHO of "arrogance" and a "disrespect for common sense".
The proposed members of the SAGO group include six experts who visited China as part of the previous team. Besides Covid, SAGO will also look into the origins of other high-risk pathogens, the BBC reported.
SAGO's work may be the "last chance to understand the origins of this virus," Michael Ryan, the WHO's emergencies director, was quoted as saying. (IANS)