China hits back at US over WHO coronavirus mission

Sarah Zheng
·4-min read

China has pushed back at US criticism of the WHO and its investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, accusing Washington of “severely undermining” the world health body.

The Chinese embassy in Washington said the United States suspended funding and withdrew from the World Health Oganization last year only to rejoin under the new administration.

“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,” the embassy said.

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“It is hoped that the US will hold itself to the highest standards, take a serious, earnest, transparent and responsible attitude, shoulder its rightful responsibility, support the WHO’s work with real actions and make due contribution to the international cooperation on Covid-19.”

The comments came after US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the administration of US President Joe Biden had “deep concerns” about the early findings of the WHO’s long delayed and highly politicised month-long investigation in China into the origins of the coronavirus.

Sullivan said on Saturday that the US had reversed its decision to disengage from the WHO, but that China needed to give data from the earliest days of the outbreak and should take part in a “transparent and robust process for preventing and responding to health emergencies”.

“We have 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,” he said. “It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government.”

Last week, the WHO-led team of international scientists said the coronavirus “most likely” had animal origins but more work was needed to identify its source.

The researchers visited key sites in the central city of Wuhan – the initial epicentre of the outbreak – including the Huanan seafood market, the Wuhan Institute of Virology and a laboratory at the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

But critics said there were limits to the mission, which took place more than a year after the first confirmed cases.

Members of the team, including Australian infectious diseases expert Dominic Dwyer and Danish scientist Thea Koelsen Fischer, said they had not been given access to raw data and individual data on the very early Covid-19 cases.

Australian public broadcaster the ABC reported the team could not test waste water samples in Wuhan before December 2019 – when the first cases of the then-unknown virus were made public – because the samples had been thrown out. They also could not test 2019 blood donation samples because of legal restrictions.

In response to a report in The New York Times on how China had refused to hand over important data on the mission, Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance in New York, tweeted on Saturday that he found “trust” and “openness” from his Chinese counterparts, and did get access to “critical new data” that increased understanding of likely spillover pathways of the virus’ s origin.

Fischer also tweeted that there was a “good relationship” between the Chinese and international experts, their quotes “are intendedly twisted casting shadows over important scientific work”.

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US State Department spokesman Ned Price said last week that the US would not accept the WHO team’s findings without first independently verifying them, and that a full and complete accounting of the WHO and China on the pandemic was needed.

“Clearly, the Chinese, at least heretofore, have not offered the requisite transparency that we need and that, just as importantly, the international community needs so that we can prevent these sorts of pandemics from ever happening again,” Price said.

“We will work with our partners, and also draw on information collected and analysed by our own intelligence community … rather than rush to conclusions that may be motivated by anything other than science.”

WHO Wuhan coronavirus mission over but much more work still to do

The origins of Covid-19 have become a political football, with Chinese foreign ministry officials promoting conspiracy theories that the virus may have spread initially from the US military and the previous US administration pushing the unsubstantiated suggestion that the virus had leaked from a lab in Wuhan.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said last week that the US should “adopt an open and transparent attitude and invite WHO experts to carry out research and studies in the US”.

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