Row over WHO Covid-19 probe escalates as China accuses U.S. of damaging cooperation
A growing diplomatic row over a World Health Organization fact-finding mission into the origins of the coronavirus escalated Sunday as China said the U.S. had “gravely damaged” international cooperation on the pandemic.
The U.S. has “severely undermined multilateral institutions, including the WHO,” the Chinese Embassy in Washington said in a statement. It appeared to be referring to the notification that the U.S. would withdraw from the organization in July — a decision that has been reversed by the Biden administration.
The U.S. “gravely damaged international cooperation on Covid-19,” the statement said, adding that it was “acting as if none of this had ever happened” while “pointing fingers at other countries who have been faithfully supporting the WHO.”
“With such a track record, how can it win the confidence of the whole world?” it added.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Saturday that the U.S. had “deep concerns” about how the findings of the WHO’s investigation were communicated.
“It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government,” he said in a statement. “To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak.”
U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Sunday that Britain shared concerns that the investigators “get full co-operation and they get the answers they need.”
“We’ll be pushing for [the WHO mission] to have full access, get all the data it needs to be able to answer the questions that I think most people want to hear answered around the outbreak, the causes,” he told the BBC. “And that’s important, not for geopolitical point-scoring or anything like that, but so we can learn the lessons and prevent it ever happening again.”
The four-week inquiry in China was plagued by delays, concern over access and bickering between Beijing and Washington.
The team released its preliminary findings last week.
Dominic Dwyer, an Australian infectious diseases expert on the WHO team, told Reuters on Saturday that it had requested raw patient data about 174 cases that China had identified from the early phase of the outbreak in Wuhan, as well as other cases, but that it was provided with only a summary.
Other media reports suggested that investigators had been denied data they asked for during their trip.
Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics
However, another member of the team, John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the U.K.’s Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance and Control, told the BBC on Sunday that “a great deal of data” was provided by the Chinese and that criticism over what information was handed over did not “characterize the mission as a whole.”
A British zoologist, Peter Daszak, president of the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, tweeted Saturday: “As lead of animal/environment working group I found trust & openness w/ my China counterpart,” adding that the team got access to critical new data throughout.
Another member of the team, Thea Kølsen Fischer, an epidemiologist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, tweeted that she and her colleagues built “a good relationsship” with their Chinese counterparts.
The WHO said Friday that it will publish the full final report in the coming weeks.
Eric Baculinao and Reuters contributed.