China says World Health Organization should “go to U.S. labs” to investigate COVID origins

China said the World Health Organization (WHO) should “go to the U.S. labs” to investigate the emergence of the coronavirus ahead of an upcoming U.S. intelligence report on its origins, the Associated Press reported.

In May, President Joe Biden ordered a 90-day review of “two likely scenarios” about where the virus came from. One theory is that there was a lab leak in Wuhan, China, where the virus was first identified, at the end of 2019. The other theory is that the virus jumped from animals to humans.

Although a joint WHO-China report published earlier this year said that a lab leak was “extremely unlikely” and that the animal-to-human theory was most likely, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in late March that “all hypotheses are on the table and warrant complete and further studies.”

“If Dr. Tedros believes that we should not rule out the hypothesis of a lab leak, well, he knows where to go,” said Fu Cong, a Foreign Ministry director general, according to the AP. “He needs to go to the U.S. labs.”

Fu suggested the WHO should visit the military lab at Fort Detrick in Maryland. China has shot back at the lab leak theory by suggesting the virus could have emerged from the lab there.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

A Foreign Ministry director general for China, Fu Cong, said the World Health Organization (WHO) should “go to the U.S. labs” to investigate COVID-19 origins. In this photo Fu talks to the press at the end of a meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) attended by the E3+2 (China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom) and Iran on June 28, 2019 at the Palais Coburg in Vienna, Austria.
Alex Halada/AFP via Getty Images

Fu accused the U.S. of politicizing the issue by seeking to blame China. On Wednesday, he said at a briefing for foreign journalists that “scapegoating China cannot whitewash the U.S.”

“If they want to baselessly accuse China, they better be prepared to accept the counterattack from China,” he said.

China, the U.S. and the WHO are entangled in a feud that centers on whether the virus could have leaked from a lab in the city of Wuhan.

China wants the investigation to move on to other possibilities. The most likely scenario, the report said, is that the virus jumped from bats to another animal that then infected humans.

But the findings are not conclusive. Ghebreyesus said in July that there had been a “premature push” to rule out the lab leak theory.

Psaki said that Biden received the report and a classified briefing about it on Tuesday and that an unclassified summary is being prepared “expeditiously” for public release.

The feud over whether to keep pursuing the lab leak theory has delayed the next phase of research, and the scientists who made up the WHO team for the joint report warned Wednesday that the window of opportunity for solving the mystery is “closing fast.”

China has responded to continuing speculation about a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology by suggesting the virus could have escaped from the U.S. military lab in Maryland.

Fu, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s Arms Control Department, denied that China is engaging in a disinformation campaign.

He said that if other parties insist on pursuing the lab leak theory, then the WHO team of researchers should visit Fort Detrick. He portrayed it as a fairness issue because the WHO has been to the Wuhan institute twice.

China said that Fort Detrick’s infectious disease institute has studied coronaviruses and that it was closed for several months in 2019-20 for safety violations.

Fu Cong in Beijing, China
Fu Cong, a Foreign Ministry director general, speaks at a briefing for foreign journalists at the Foreign Ministry in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021.
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

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