China's UN envoy calls on WHO to probe US labs as the source of the coronavirus and Covid-19

A joint WHO-Chinese team had found that it was unlikely that Covid-19 had leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - China's envoy to the United Nations Chen Xu has called on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to probe US laboratories for the source of the coronavirus, as Beijing hit back against claims that Covid-19 emerged from a Chinese lab.

Mr Chen's letter to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday (Aug 24) coincided with United States intelligence agencies presenting President Joe Biden with a report on the origins of the pandemic.

"If some parties are of the view that the 'lab leak' hypothesis remain open, it is the labs of Fort Detrick and University of North Carolina (UNC) in US that should be subject to transparent investigation with full access," said a statement posted by the Chinese mission in Geneva on Wednesday (Aug 25).

In his letter, Mr Chen also noted that a joint WHO-Chinese team found that it was unlikely that Covid-19 had leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, located in the city where the virus was first discovered.

In May, Mr Biden ordered US intelligence agencies to investigate and examine various theories about how the pandemic started, such as via a laboratory accident in a Chinese lab, or if the virus had first originated in animals before making the jump to humans.

The 90-day review ended on Tuesday (Aug 24), with Mr Biden briefed on its findings. Officials in Washington say it will take several days before an unclassified version of the report will be made available to the public.

But China went on the offensive in the weeks and days leading up to the release of the report.

It pointed to Facebook posts purportedly from a Swiss researcher, and used rap music and cartoons to try and create scepticism over the US report and obfuscate its findings.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesmen and state media pushed the theory that the virus leaked from the Fort Detrick military base in Maryland, once the centre of the US' biomedical weapons programme and which now houses labs that conduct virus research.

On Wednesday, Mr Chen also called on the WHO to investigate the laboratory of UNC coronavirus researcher Ralph Baric, who is known for doing "gain-of-function" research in which new properties are engineered into coronaviruses.

Prof Baric has argued that such research is necessary for developing vaccines and treatments against emerging viruses.

On Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin again accused Washington of politicising investigations into the origins of Covid-19.

"The US government is using this so-called investigation, not to find the truth about the origins of the coronavirus, it is not a scientific report based on facts and scientific methods. The US is blaming China and shirking its responsibility for its failure to fight the pandemic," Mr Wang said at a regular press briefing.

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