US, Chinese experts probing origins of coronavirus: Report

K J M Varma

Beijing, Apr 29 (PTI) American scientists are working with their Chinese counterparts to investigate the origins of the novel coronavirus, a prime demand of US President Donald Trump and several other countries, an official media report here said on Wednesday.

While there is no official announcement here, the state-run CGTN television reported on Wednesday that the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention is facilitating the cooperation between Dr. Ian Lipikin, Director for Centre for Infection and Immunity of Columbia University, and Prof Lu Jinhai of Sun-Yat-Sen University of Guangzhou to conduct the probe.

'The two are working together to determine whether the virus emerged elsewhere in China before Wuhan in December' last year, the report said.

It is also not yet clear whether the investigation has the official consent of the US government.

The report about the probe came as China is fighting back mounting calls for an international enquiry into the source of coronavirus which broke out in Wuhan and spread to the whole world.

China on Monday said such a probe has no precedence or legal basis besides investigations into such pandemics in the past had not provided any conclusive results.

Besides Trump, who stepped up demand for an investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus and whether it escaped from Wuhan Institute of Virology, Britain, Australia and Germany called for more transparency from Beijing on COVID-19 origins.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Monday played down the calls for enquiry saying that the investigations in the past on such viruses achieved little.

'The origin of the virus is a matter of science and should be studied by scientists and professionals. Such research and conclusive answers can only be drawn after getting mutually reinforcing evidence on epidemiological study and virology studies. It is a very complicated issue often it takes a lot of time and there is a degree of uncertainty,” he said.

'Throughout human history, tracing the origins of many diseases took a dozen years or decades. Some progress was made but a conclusive answer has not been reached,” he said, adding that the work is still going on.

'So there have been arguments and theories put forward but studies in the world have not clearly identified the origin and transmission routes of the virus. So there is no science basis to draw a clear conclusion about the origin of the (past) viruses', he said.

Geng said the aim should be “to find out how it occurs and prevent future damages to mankind. It is not about retribution and or accountability. There is no precedence in the world for this and there is no legal basis.” The present focus of the international community should be to control the COVID-19 pandemic and save lives.

The coronavirus has infected more than three million people and claimed over 211,000 lives worldwide. China's overall death toll stood at 4,633 and confirmed cases reached 82,830.

'Politicising the issue of the origin of the virus goes against the spirit of science. It disrupts international cooperation and the mutual trust and will not help with global cooperation to fight the virus,” Geng said. PTI KJV ZH