WHO official says can’t force China to give more information on COVID-19 origins

Coronavirus

GENEVA (NewsNation Now) — A top World Health Organization official said on Monday that the WHO cannot compel China to divulge more data on COVID-19’s origins, while adding it will propose studies needed to take understanding of where the virus emerged to the “next level.”

Pressed by a reporter on how the WHO will “compel” China into being more open, Mike Ryan, director of the agency’s emergencies program, said at a press conference that the “WHO doesn’t have the power to compel anyone in this regard.”

“We fully expect cooperation, input and support of all of our member states in that endeavour,” Ryan said.

China’s foreign ministry on Friday firmly denied that a Chinese virology laboratory in Wuhan was linked to the outbreak of COVID-19, in response to calls from U.S. officials for more transparency and international pressure to learn more about the origins of the pandemic that has killed more than 3 million worldwide.

After months of minimizing the possibility of a lab leak or accident as a fringe theory, the Biden administration has ordered U.S. intelligence officials to redouble their efforts to investigate the origins. Intelligence agencies still examining reports that researchers at the Wuhan virology laboratory were seriously ill in 2019 a month before the first COVID-19 cases were reported.

“This fully shows that the U.S. side does not care about facts and truth, nor is it interested in serious scientific origin tracing, but wants to use the epidemic to engage in stigmatization and political manipulation, and to shirk responsibility,” foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.

Chinese state media has suggested the virus might not have originated in China. COVID-19 was first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, while Italy’s first patient was detected on Feb. 21 last year in a small town near Milan. However, a study published last year suggested antibodies to either the virus or a variant were detected in Italy in 2019.

While under scrutiny for the release of a trove of emails, Dr. Anthony Fauci has called on China to release the medical records of nine people whose ailments might provide vital clues into whether COVID-19 first emerged as the result of a lab leak, the Financial Times reported on Thursday.

The U.S.’s top infectious disease expert has been defending himself against assertions that he downplayed or hid information about COVID-19, specifically on the origins of the virus, in the newly released emails.

Dr. Fauci’s response to the criticism is that his position never changed and is based on science. He says he still believes it’s more likely the virus came from animals but he’s not ruling out the Wuhan lab theory.

“I would like to see the medical records of the three people who are reported to have got sick in 2019. Did they really get sick, and if so, what did they get sick with?” the Times report quoted Fauci as saying about three of the nine.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin declined to comment directly on whether China would release the records of the nine and reiterated China’s position that reports of a lab leak are a “conspiracy theory.”

“Before December 30, 2019, Wuhan Institute of Virology had not been exposed to the 2019 novel coronavirus. So far, the staff and graduate students of the institute have maintained zero infection,” Wang said at a regular briefing.

The origin of the virus is hotly contested, with competing theories: that the virus jumped from animals, possibly starting with bats, to humans, or that it escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China. Members of a WHO team that visited China earlier this year hunting for COVID-19’s origins have said they did not have access to all data, fueling continued debate over the country’s transparency.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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