Beijing (China) | Agencies: In what could raise eyebrows, China on Thursday rejected the plan of the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the second phase of investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic. Calling the lab leak theory a "rumour", China said it is "shocked" with the WHO as it opposed politicising the study.

"We will not accept such an origins-tracing plan as it, in some aspects, disregards common sense and defies science," Zeng Yixin, vice minister of the National Health Commission (NHC), told Reuters.

Zeng said he was taken aback when he first read the WHO plan because it lists the hypothesis that a Chinese violation of laboratory protocols had caused the virus to leak during research.

"We hope the WHO would seriously review the considerations and suggestions made by Chinese experts and truly treat the origin tracing of the COVID-19 virus as a scientific matter, and get rid of political interference," Zeng said.

The WHO this month proposed a second phase of studies into the origins of the coronavirus in China, including audits of laboratories and markets in the city of Wuhan, calling for transparency from authorities.

The origin of the virus remains contested among experts. The first known cases emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. The virus was believed to have jumped to humans from animals being sold for food at a city market.

In May, US President Joe Biden ordered aides to find answers to questions over the origin saying that U.S. intelligence agencies were pursuing rival theories potentially including the possibility of a laboratory accident in China.

Zeng, along with other officials and Chinese experts at the news conference, urged the WHO to expand origin-tracing efforts beyond China to other countries.

"We believe a lab leak is extremely unlikely and it is not necessary to invest more energy and efforts in this regard," said Liang Wannian, the Chinese team leader on the WHO joint expert team.

However, Liang said the lab leak hypothesis could not be entirely discounted but suggested that if the evidence warranted, other countries could look into the possibility it leaked from their labs.

(With Reuters inputs)

Posted By: Aalok Sensharma