By David Stanway
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Politicising the origins of COVID-19 would hamper further investigations and undermine global efforts to curb the pandemic, China’s U.S. embassy said after President Joe Biden ordered a review of intelligence about where the virus emerged.
The embassy in Washington said in a statement on its website on Wednesday evening “some political forces have been fixated on political manipulation and (the) blame game”.
As the World Health Organization (WHO) prepares to begin a second phase of studies into the origins of COVID-19, China has been under pressure to give investigators more access amid allegations that SARS-CoV-2 leaked from a laboratory specialising in coronavirus research in the city of Wuhan.
China has repeatedly denied the lab was responsible, saying the United States and other countries were trying to distract from their own failures to contain the virus.
Biden said on Wednesday that U.S. intelligence agencies were divided about whether COVID-19 “emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident”.
Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health with the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said China’s lack of openness was a major factor behind the resurgence of the lab leak theory.
“There’s nothing really new there to prove the hypothesis,” he said. “In the investigation of the origins of the pandemic it is really important to have transparency in order to build trust in the investigation results.”
“A COMPREHENSIVE STUDY”
The Chinese embassy said it supports “a comprehensive study of all early cases of COVID-19 found worldwide and a thorough investigation into some secretive bases and biological laboratories all over the world.”
The Global Times tabloid, part of the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper group, said late on Wednesday that if the “lab leak theory” is to be further investigated, the United States should also allow investigators into its own facilities, including the lab at Fort Detrick.
“Very clearly they are trying to internationalise their way out of the jam they are in,” said Jamie Metzl, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, who has been campaigning for a new independent investigation.
A joint China-WHO study published in March said that it was highly improbable that SARS-CoV-2 leaked from the lab, adding that it most likely spread from bats to humans via an as yet unidentified intermediary species.
China has also continued to point to the possibility that COVID-19 originated in another country and entered via infected frozen food or through southeast Asian wildlife trade networks.
“The pandemic started in China,” Metzl said. “Let’s start with a full investigation there and expand as necessary. In short, this (statement from the embassy) is an outrageous insult to every person who has died from this terrible tragedy and their families.”
Huang of CFR said further investigations into the origins of COVID-19 were at an “impasse”.
“Ideally you want China to be more cooperative and more transparent,” Huang said. “But now the issue has become so politicised, with the stakes of the investigation so high.”
(This story corrects paragraph 12 to show “Southeast Asian wildlife trade networks”, not “Southeast China”)