China should provide raw data on Covid-19 pandemic's origins: WHO head

China has called the theory that the virus may have escaped from a Wuhan laboratory "absurd". PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (BLOOMBERG) - The World Health Organisation's director-general called on China to cooperate in a second phase of studying the origins of the coronavirus as the pandemic rages on around the world.

One of the challenges is the lack of raw data, especially from the early days of the outbreak, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing on Thursday (July 15). China has not yet shared that information.

"We're asking China to be transparent and open and cooperate," Dr Tedros said, adding that the WHO will be discussing a second phase of the origin search with member states.

The Group of Seven last month called for the WHO to convene "a timely, transparent, expert-led and science-based" study into the origins that would include renewed investigations in China.

China has called the theory that the virus may have escaped from a Wuhan laboratory "absurd" and said repeatedly that "politicising" the issue will hamper investigations.

At a regular news briefing on Friday, when asked about Dr Tedros' comments, China's foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that some data was unable to be copied or leave China as it involved personal information

On Thursday, China said that 48 countries have sent letters to the WHO opposing the politicisation of the probe on the virus' origins.

In the letters, the countries stressed that Covid-19 is the common enemy that the world currently faces and it can only be conquered by the joint effort of the global community, state-linked tabloid Global Times reported, quoting a foreign ministry spokesman.

The letters pointed out that the WHO-China joint report on the virus origins, released on March 30, should serve as foundation and guideline for global virus tracing.

China also urged the WHO to act according to the resolution made by the World Health Assembly and push forward the global probe on the traceability of the virus, Global Times reported.

"We urge relevant parties to stop playing political games on the virus origins, to stop using the issue to pass the buck, to stop sabotaging international cooperation on virus origins research," said the spokesman.

"It should adopt a truly responsible scientific attitude and work with the international community to contribute to the fight against the epidemic and the maintenance of human health and well-being."

Earlier this year, a mission that included scientists from China and was organised jointly with the WHO found that the virus probably spread from bats to humans via another animal.

Though the mission considered a laboratory incident the least likely hypothesis, Dr Tedros called for further investigations.

"We owe it to the millions who suffered and died," Dr Tedros said on Thursday. "I hope there will be better cooperation."

In May, US President Joe Biden also called for a deeper US intelligence investigation into the cause of Covid-19, and asked agencies to report back to him in 90 days.

The International Health Regulations Emergency Committee has expressed concern that governments around the world are making increasingly divergent policy decisions that address narrow national needs and hamper the global response.

In a statement released on Thursday, the committee cited a strong likelihood that new and possibly more dangerous variants of concern will emerge that could be even more difficult to control.

"The pandemic is nowhere near finished," the group said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.