The White House has called on China to hand over data from the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic and expressed “deep concerns” about a World Health Organization fact-finding mission to Wuhan.
After a four-week visit to Wuhan, the Chinese city where the pandemic is believed to have emerged, the WHO this week said it was “extremely unlikely” that the pathogen had leaked from a Chinese laboratory — a theory the Trump administration had promoted without providing evidence.
“We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the Covid-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process,” Jake Sullivan, national security adviser, said on Saturday.
The criticism came after the Wall Street Journal reported that some WHO experts said China had not provided raw data related to a possible outbreak earlier than December 2019 in another part of China.
“China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak,” Sullivan said in his statement.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, on Friday said that all hypotheses “remain open” and that more studies and analysis were needed to reach a more definitive conclusion about the origin of the virus. But he added that some of that work may lie “outside the remit and scope” of the four-week WHO mission to Wuhan.
During the Trump administration, Mike Pompeo, then secretary of state, said the virus may have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. After repeatedly accusing the WHO of bending to the will of China, Donald Trump withdrew the US from the organisation.
Sullivan said President Joe Biden had returned to the WHO because the global health organisation had “never been more important”, but stressed that rejoining the global health institution also meant “holding it to the highest standards”. One US official said the US government was talking to the WHO privately about its concerns.
“At this critical moment, protecting the WHO’s credibility is a paramount priority,” Sullivan said.
After the Wuhan visit, Peter Ben Embarek, the head of the WHO mission, said: “We are still far away from understanding the origin.”
He said researchers had been able to trace suppliers of different wild animal products as a potential clue for further studies. He added that there was a better understanding of the fact there was no widespread cluster of the disease before December 2019, in Wuhan or elsewhere.
The WHO said its interim and final reports were not complete, but officials hinted that more information would be contained when they were published.
“It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government,” Sullivan said.
A Chinese embassy spokesman said: “What the US has done in recent years has severely undermined multilateral institutions, including the WHO, and gravely damaged international co-operation on Covid-19. But the US, acting as if none of this had ever happened, is pointing fingers at other countries who have been faithfully supporting the WHO and at the WHO itself.”
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