News China fires back at WHO virus investigation sceptics in US

China fires back at WHO virus investigation sceptics in US

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China has fired back at the US over allegations that Beijing withheld some information about the coronavirus outbreak from World Health Organisation investigators.

In a statement on Saturday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington had “deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them”.

“It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government,” he said, referring to the WHO mission investigating the origins of the pandemic in Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected late in 2019.

“To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak,” Mr Sullivan’s statement said.

China responded on Sunday with a statement from its Washington Embassy that said the US had already “gravely damaged international co-operation on COVID-19” and was now “pointing fingers at other countries who have been faithfully supporting the WHO and at the WHO itself”.

While it welcomed President Joe Biden’s decision to reverse the Trump administration’s move to leave the WHO, China hopes the US will “hold itself to the highest standards … and support the WHO’s work with real actions,” the statement said.

Following allegations in The New York Times and other media outlets of Chinese withholding data, investigation team member Peter Daszak tweeted, “This was NOT my experience on (at)WHO mission.”

“As lead of animal/environment working group I found trust & openness w/ my China counterparts. We DID get access to critical new data throughout. We DID increase our understanding of likely spillover pathways,” Daszak tweeted.

Another team member, Thea Koelsen Fischer of Denmark, also said that had not been her experience and implied some comments had been misrepresented in the media.

The British-born Daszak, a zoologist who now works in New York, affirmed Fischer’s remarks, tweeting: “It’s disappointing to spend time w/ journalists explaining key findings of our exhausting month-long work in China, to see our colleagues selectively misquoted to fit a narrative that was prescribed before the work began. Shame on you (at)nytimes.”

The 10-nation WHO team last week departed Wuhan after nearly a month.

It visited markets, hospitals and research centres, including the highly secure Wuhan Institute of Virology that has been the subject of speculation because of its large collection of bat virus specimens.

The mission was intended to be an initial step in the process of understanding the origins of the virus, which scientists have posited may have passed to humans through a wild animal, such as a pangolin or bamboo rat.

They said transmission directly from bats to humans or through the trade in frozen food products are also possibilities, but an alternate theory that the virus leaked from a Chinese lab was unlikely.