China Seeks to Beef Up Biosecurity Labs Amid Virus Origin Spat

China plans to ramp up the construction and management of biosecurity labs to prepare for future emerging diseases, while it also grapples with allegations from the U.S. that the coronavirus outbreak could have resulted from a lab leak.

The country seeks to “comprehensively enhance biosecurity governance capabilities” by improving its monitoring and emergence preparedness, according to a document outlining major policy priorities through 2025. The report was released Friday as lawmakers from the world’s second-largest economy meet in Beijing for the annual parliamentary session.

China also seeks to accelerate biosecurity legislation and beef up regulations, including establishing a catalog grading the risk levels associated with researching and developing biotechnologies. It wants to strengthen the prevention of animal and plant-borne disease at its borders.

The increased focus on biosecurity comes after the Asian country in late 2019 became the first in the world to be overwhelmed by Covid-19, as its disease surveillance network failed to spark an effective initial response to curb its spread. Despite its subsequent success in stamping out the virus, China faces lingering criticism from the West over its mishandling of the outbreak in the early days and opaqueness in data sharing.

China Seeks to Beef Up Biosecurity Labs Amid Virus Origin Spat

The previous U.S. administration has claimed, without showing evidence, that the coronavirus was leaked from a high-grade biosecurity lab in Wuhan, where researchers have been studying coronaviruses for years. China has denied such allegations, and a World Health Organization-led team in February dismissed the lab theory after conducting an investigation in Wuhan.

But the WHO team’s overall findings were met with skepticism by Western governments who questioned the mission’s independence from Beijing’s influence. The controversy over the WHO investigation heated up this week as a group of scientists called for an independent probe to consider all hypotheses.

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