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Professor Shi Zhengli, of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), has said she personally will “welcome” the investigation from the WHO, which will take place in Wuhan in January. WHO members will begin their inquiry in January, but are not expected to investigate the theory that COVID-19 began from a leak from the WIV. The professor, along with the Chinese government, had previously angrily dismissed suggestions the pandemic began after a sample of the virus leaked from the laboratory.
Speaking to the BBC, Prof Shi said she has been in communication with WHO experts “twice”, and made clear she would want them to the visit the WIV.
When asked whether the visit would include a formal investigation using the WIV’s data and records, she again said she would welcome the WHO.
Prof Shi added: “I would personally welcome any form of visit, based on an open, transparent, trusting, reliable and reasonable dialogue.
“But the specific plan is not decided by me.”
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WHO investigators will enter Wuhan in the first week of January in a bid to determine the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Between 12 to 15 international experts will examine evidence, including samples collected by Chinese researchers and build on initial studies.
Thea Fischer, Danish member of the WHO, said to Reuters the crew will quarantine for two weeks upon arrival in China, before carrying out a four week investigation.
But the WHO inquiry terms have no mention of the theory that the pandemic began after a viral sample leaked from the WIV laboratory.
Peter Daszak, British zoologist and member of the inquiry, has rubbished the laboratory origin theory as a “conspiracy theory”.
He said to the BBC: “I’ve yet to see any evidence at all of a lab leak or a lab involvement in this outbreak.
“I have seen substantial evidence that these are naturally occurring phenomena driven by human encroachment into wildlife habitat, which is clearly on display across south-east Asia.”
Mr Daszak however refused to rule out the possibility, and added: “The WHO negotiated the terms of reference, and they say we’re going to follow the evidence, and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
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The US has called for a “transparent” investigation into the origins of the virus, after accusing China of covering up the extent of the pandemic after it was first detected on December 31 last year.
China has published limited data about their coronavirus, with Prof Shi and the WIV’s public database of viruses also being taken offline.
She said the site had been attacked and will be restored soon, also adding: “All our research results are published in English journals in the form of papers.
“Virus sequences are saved in the GenBank database too. It’s completely transparent. We have nothing to hide.”
China has recently accused Australia and other countries of being the true origin of the pandemic.
State-run news outlet The Global Times, as well as Beijing officials, have claimed COVID-19 was imported into wet markets by frozen food.
The Global Times article said the theory “cannot be ruled out”, but they admitted there was no evidence supporting the claim.
A separate article also said cold-chain products were imported into Wuhan from several countries including “meat products from Brazil and Germany… Australian steak, Chilean cherries and Ecuadorian seafood”, attempting to link the outbreak of coronavirus to those countries.
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