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China says it backs WHO in tracing COVID-19, denounces US 'lies'

Most experts believe COVID-19 originated in a market selling wildlife and jumped from animals to people, but Pompeo and US President Donald Trump have said there is evidence it came from a laboratory, without elaborating.

Medical staff in protective clothes are seen carrying a patient from an apartment suspected of having the virus in Wuhan, in Hubei province on 30 January 2020. Picture: AFP

BEIJING - China said on Thursday it supports the World Health Organisation (WHO) in trying to pinpoint the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and accused US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of telling one lie after another in his attacks on Beijing.

The virus has killed more than 255,000 people worldwide, including more than 70,000 in the United States, the worst-affected country, since it was first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December.

Pompeo accused China of withholding virus samples he said were needed for global vaccine research, and he demanded transparency. Most experts believe COVID-19 originated in a market selling wildlife and jumped from animals to people, but Pompeo and US President Donald Trump have said there is evidence it came from a laboratory, without elaborating.

Pompeo also accused the WHO of being too slow to respond to the disease and said it “needs to still demand that there be an investigation” in China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, addressing reporters in Beijing on Thursday, said China supported WHO efforts to investigate the origin of the pandemic.

“We are always open to cooperate with the WHO on matters, including on the question of origin,” she said. But she repeated a timeline of signals from France, Sweden and the United States itself that the virus may not have emerged in China.

“While scientists have not come to a conclusion, why is Secretary Pompeo drawing the hasty conclusion that the virus came from a Wuhan lab? Where is his proof? Show us the proof. If he cannot show any evidence, then he may still be in the process of making up this evidence.”

The WHO has urged countries to investigate any early suspicious cases and called earlier comments about a possible laboratory source by Pompeo “speculative”.

Hua said Pompeo had contradicted himself in interviews about the virus. “The reason why he contradicts himself is because he is always making up a lie to cover up another lie. This is an open secret.”

'WORSE THAN PEARL HARBOUR'

At a White House event on Wednesday, Trump, who is seeking re-election in November, called the virus the worst “attack” the United States had ever experienced, and blamed China for not stopping it.

“This is worse than Pearl Harbour. This is worse than the World Trade Center,” Trump said. “And it should have never happened. It could have been stopped at the source. It could have been stopped in China. It should have been stopped right at the source, and it wasn’t.”

He has accused the WHO of being “China-centric” and acting too slowly to fight the disease, and threatened to withdraw funds, while many scientists have said now is the time to increase funding and global cooperation to find a vaccine.

Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in Hawaii in 1941 and al-Qaeda militants flew hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September, 2001.

Hua said the only enemy was the virus.

“Because that is the common enemy of all of humanity... Faced with this mankind battle against the virus, China should be (a) US comrade in arms, not enemy.”

Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, said in an interview published on Monday the best evidence showed the virus was not made in a lab, but appeared to have “evolved in nature and then jumped species”.

The European Union ambassador to China said on Thursday it was “regrettable” that part of an opinion piece about the pandemic co-authored by 27 European ambassadors and published in the official China Daily had been removed before publication.

A comparison between the original op-ed uploaded onto the EU embassy website and the one published on Tuesday by the China Daily showed that in a sentence beginning, “But the outbreak of the coronavirus”, the words that followed - “in China, and its subsequent spread to the rest of the world over the past three months” - had been removed.