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BEIJING : China cannot accept the World Health Organization's plan for the second phase of a study into the origins of COVID-19, a senior Chinese health official said Thursday.

Zeng Yixin, the vice minister of the National Health Commission, said he was shocked by the plan and specifically, the theory that the virus might have leaked from a Chinese lab.

He dismissed the theory as a rumor that runs counter to common sense and science.

“It is impossible for us to accept such an origin-tracing plan," he said a a news conference called to address the COVID-19 origins issue.

The search for the origins of the virus has become a diplomatic issue that has worsened China's relations with the U.S. and many of its allies. The U.S. and others say that China has not been transparent about what happened in the early days of the pandemic. China accuses critics of politicizing an issue that should be left to scientists.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO, acknowledged last week that it was premature to rule out a potential link between the pandemic and a leak from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan, the city where the disease was first detected in late 2019.

Zeng said the Wuhan lab has no virus that can directly infect humans. He noted that a WHO-coordinated team of international experts who visited the lab earlier this year concluded that a lab leak was highly unlikely.

Most experts believe the virus most likely jumped from animals to humans. The highly politicized debate centers on whether a lab leak is so unlikely that the theory should be ruled out as a possibility, or if it merits further study.

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