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China relents on opposition to COVID-19 origin probe; Backs EU resolution at WHA

China relents on opposition to COVID-19 origin probe; Backs EU resolution at WHA
By K J M Varma

Beijing, May 18 () Under mounting global pressure, China has relented on its opposition for an inquiry into the origin of the coronavirus, expressing its backing for an EU draft resolution tabled at the World Health Assembly (WHA) calling for a probe into the source of the vicious virus that has killed over three lakh people.

The WHA is the decision-making body of the Geneva-based World Health Organisation. The annual meeting, being held virtually on Monday and Tuesday, is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board.

The meeting is being held amid the global anger and concerns over the COVID-19 which first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and criticism over the role of the WHO and its Director General Dr General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

India is among 120 countries which backed the draft resolution put forward by the European Union and several other countries. India is expected to be elected Chair of the Executive Board of the WHA replacing Japan.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has expressed Beijing's backing for the EU resolution.

"Recently, the EU submitted a draft resolution on COVID-19 response to the 73rd WHA. All parties have reached consensus on the text," Zhao told a media briefing here on Monday while fending off a spate of questions.

"On the issue of the origin of the virus, all parties have agreed to International Health Regulation emergency committee suggested wording and ask the WHO chief to work in close collaboration with World Organisation for Animal Health and the Food and Agricultural Organisation, and all countries to find out the animal source and the transmission routes of the virus through field investigations and find out the possible intermediary host," Zhao said.

"The purpose is to reduce the risk of similar incidents in the future", he said.

To persistent questions whether China which earlier dismissed US and Australia's calls for an independent inquiry into the origin of the virus has finally agreed for the probe, Zhao said, "China participated in the consultation on the draft resolution all along."

"In the draft resolution, all parties agreed that WHO should conduct an assessment over the response to COVID-19. The content is in line with China's consistent position," he said, answering questions about 120 countries including India backing the draft resolution conceived by Australia and the European Union.

Zhao said consensus has also been reached about evaluating the role of the WHO which has come under sharp criticism from US President Donald Trump who alleged that it is biased towards China and suspended over USD 400 million funding for it.

As per WHO's assessment, "the Director General will ask at an appropriate time after consultations with the member states and gradually initiate an independent and through process to review the lessons learnt in the WHO coordination and propose suggestions for future work," Zhao said.

"This is a customary practice," he said.

"In the consultations, the vast majority of the countries believe that the pandemic is not over yet and cooperation to fight against is the most urgent task at the moment so it is not mature to start immediately the assessment", Zhao said.

"China hopes all parties will in science based and cooperative spirit focus on enhancing cooperation and engage in constructive dialogue in improving the global public health system," he added.

The novel coronavirus has claimed 315,185 lives and infected over 4.7 million people globally, according to Johns Hopkins University data. KJV ZH AKJ ZHZH