122 Countries Want an Investigation Into How the Coronavirus Outbreak Happened, but China Says it's 'Premature'

A spokesperson for China's foreign ministry has said it is too early to allow an independent investigation into the origins and spread of the COVID-19 virus, as nations prepare to meet at this week's World Health Assembly (WHA).

Spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing in Beijing that the vast majority of countries do not yet think the pandemic is over, according to Reuters. As such, he argued it is too soon to think about an investigation.

Multiple world leaders have called on Beijing to allow a probe into the coronavirus outbreak, which so far has infected more than 4.7 million people worldwide and killed more than 315,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

At this week's meeting, 122 of the World Health Organization's 194 member states will call for an independent investigation into the outbreak and course of the pandemic, despite protests from China.

The outbreak began in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December. The dominant theory is that the virus originated at a wildlife market in the city, jumping from bats to humans via an intermediary animal such as a pangolin.

President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, have claimed with confidence that the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology—a research lab a few miles away from the wildlife market. Neither has presented any evidence to support the assertion.

Though U.S. intelligence officials are investigating the possibility, American allies, the World Health Organization, and National Institute of Allergy, Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley have all contradicted the theory.

Chinese officials and state media have rejected the claim and demanded that the Trump administration provide evidence.

Zhao poured cold water on the idea of an international inquiry hours before the start of the WHA meeting, which will be held as a video conference on Monday and Tuesday. National representatives will meet to discuss their progress in suppressing coronavirus and the search for treatments and a vaccine.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will address the opening ceremony of the meeting on Monday. The president has been accused of concealing information about the coronavirus outbreak from the international community, while his government in Beijing has allegedly engaged in a disinformation campaign to absolve China of blame for the pandemic and malign the response of other nations.

Local officials in Wuhan also silenced whistleblower doctors early in the outbreak and are accused of underreporting the number of deaths and infections in the city, which was put under quarantine for two months.

The WHA will include a proposal for an inquiry into the origins of coronavirus, despite Beijing's efforts to undermine any plans for one.

A conference paper supported by 122 nations has already been filed ahead of the meeting, urging the international community to "identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts, including through efforts such as scientific and collaborative field missions."

The paper—which does not explicitly mention China or Wuhan—also calls for "a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation...to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19." This should happen at the "the earliest appropriate moment," the paper says.

Zhao Lijian, Coronavirus, probe, investigation, WHO, WHA
This file photo shows Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian at a daily media briefing in Beijing on April 8, 2020. GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images/Getty