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China shifts focus to Fort Detrick in rebuff to WHO proposal

China said Monday it disagrees with a World Health Organization proposal from WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus for a new audit of Chinese laboratories. File Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/EPA-EFE
China said Monday it disagrees with a World Health Organization proposal from WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus for a new audit of Chinese laboratories. File Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/EPA-EFE

July 19 (UPI) -- China rejected a proposal from the World Health Organization for a new audit of Chinese laboratories previously linked to the earliest outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.

Beijing also claimed the United States poses greater dangers.

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Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Monday at a regular press briefing that WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus' proposal made last week is "different from the position of many countries, including China."

In February, a team of WHO experts visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where a team of Chinese scientists were studying bat coronaviruses. The WHO team said after the trip that the source of the coronavirus "remains unidentified."

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Zhao said Monday that any new WHO-led audits of Chinese labs should be decided "by member states."

"The WHO should fully communicate and negotiate with member states, accept their opinions, while at the same time making the process of drafting work plans open and transparent," Zhao said.

The spokesman also claimed that 54 member countries have "opposed the politicization of the COVID-19 origin issue."

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Zhao, who promoted an unfounded theory last year that the U.S. military brought COVID-19 to China, tweeted after the briefing Monday that the WHO also should inspect Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md.

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Last week, the Chinese spokesman had recommended investigations into the role of cold chains and the global frozen food trade, according to the Global Times.

Chinese state media reported Sunday an online petition is circulating in China, "demanding" an investigation into a lab at Fort Detrick. The petition asking for a probe of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases has collected half a million signatures, the Global Times said.

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"This [U.S.] lab has a notorious record on lab security. There have been scandals of anthrax bacterium from the lab being stolen, causing poisoning to many and even death," the Chinese petition claimed.

China's first COVID-19 cases were first reported in December 2019.

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