Members of the WHO team and Chinese officials attend the WHO-China joint study news conference at a hotel in Wuhan, Hubei, China. Reuters
A member of the WHO mission to China exploring the origins of the coronavirus pandemic took a swipe on Wednesday at US intelligence on the issue, after the State Department cast doubt on the transparency of their probe.
President Joe Biden “has to look tough on China,” expert Peter Daszak said in a tweet as the mission ended, adding: “Please don’t rely too much on US intel: increasingly disengaged under Trump & frankly wrong on many aspects.”
The WHO mission to China ended without finding the source of the coronavirus that has killed more than 2.3 million worldwide.
The experts had to walk a diplomatic tightrope, with the United States urging a “robust” probe before they left and China warning against the politicisation of the issue.
As they wrapped up the mission team member Daszak tweeted that they worked “flat out under the most politically charged environment possible.”
Later he issued the extraordinary tweet referencing Biden, wading directly into the soupy geopolitics which covers the pandemic origin story.
Dasak’s comments were linked to an article referencing US State Department comments that cast doubt over the transparency of China’s cooperation with the WHO mission.
Beijing is desperate to defang criticism of its handling of the chaotic early stages of the outbreak. Former US president Donald Trump frequently laid the blame with China and repeated a controversial theory that a lab leak may have been the source of the pandemic.
The WHO team also concluded the theory of a lab experiment gone wrong was “extremely unlikely,” while introducing new avenues of inquiry, chiming with China’s view that it may have originated overseas or been spread by frozen foods.
Despite failing to finding the virus origins, a year after the pandemic began, the team of foreign experts did agree the virus likely jumped from bats to an unknown animal species before transmitting to humans.
The head of the World Health Organization-led team in the central Chinese city of Wuhan probing the origins of COVID-19 said on Tuesday that cold chain transmission of the virus is a possibility and warrants further investigation.
The team arrived in Wuhan on Jan.14 and after two weeks of quarantine, visited key sites like the Huanan seafood market, the location of the first known cluster of infections, as well as the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has been involved in coronavirus research.
The group is expected to spend two more weeks in China, and will visit the seafood market at the centre of the early outbreak. It will also visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology. One hypothesis, rejected by China, is that the outbreak was caused by a leak at the government lab.
Most scientists reject the hypothesis, but some speculate that a virus captured from the wild could have figured in experiments at the lab to test the risks of a human spillover and then escaped via an infected staff member.
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