China hits back after US expresses 'deep concerns' over WHO Covid-19 report

  • Biden administration requests data from early days of outbreak
  • China’s Washington embassy rejects accusations of interference
The headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland.
The headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland. Photograph: Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA
The headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland. Photograph: Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA
Agencies

First published on Sat 13 Feb 2021 11.32 EST

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

The White House on Saturday called on China to make data from the earliest days of the Covid-19 outbreak available, saying it had “deep concerns” about the way the findings of the WHO’s Covid-19 report were communicated.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement it was imperative that the report be independent and free from “alteration by the Chinese government”, echoing concerns raised by the administration of Donald Trump, who moved to quit the WHO over the issue.

China responded with a statement from its Washington embassy on Sunday, saying the US had already gravely damaged international cooperation 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, the statement said China hoped the US would “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”.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday all hypotheses were still open about the origins of Covid-19, after Washington said it wanted to review data from a WHO-led mission to China, where the virus first emerged.

The mission, which spent four weeks in China looking into the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak, said this week that it was not looking further into the question of whether the virus escaped from a lab, which it considered highly unlikely.

The Trump administration said it suspected the virus may have escaped from a Chinese lab, which Beijing strongly denies.

Sullivan noted that president Joe Biden had quickly reversed the decision to disengage from the WHO, but said it was imperative to protect the organization’s credibility.

“Re-engaging the WHO also means holding it to the highest standards,” Sullivan said. “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.”

Biden, who was spending his first weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat in the mountains of western Maryland, would meet his national security advisers on Saturday, a White House official said.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed WHO investigators, reported on Friday that China had refused to give the World Health Organization raw, personalized data on its early Covid-19 cases that could help determine how and when the virus first spread in China.

“It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government,” Sullivan said. “To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak.”

All countries, including China, should participate in a transparent and robust process for preventing and responding to health emergencies, he said.

Following allegations of Chinese withholding of data in the New York Times and other media outlets, investigation team member Peter Daszak tweeted, “This was NOT my experience on @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.

“We DID build up a good relationship in the Chinese/Int Epi-team! Allowing for heated arguments reflects a deep level of engagement in the room. Our quotes are intendedly twisted casting shadows over important scientific work,” Fischer tweeted.

While in Wuhan, Koelsen Fischer said she did not get to see the raw data and had to rely on an analysis of the data that was presented to her. But she said that would be true in most countries.