Coronavirus pandemic

WHO says Pompeo's 'evidence' on origin of virus is speculative

A 2017 photo of a laboratory in Wuhan. The US claims that the coronavirus emerged from a lab in the Chinese city.
A 2017 photo of a laboratory in Wuhan. The US claims that the coronavirus emerged from a lab in the Chinese city.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

GENEVA • The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday that comments by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo citing "evidence" that the coronavirus had emerged from a Chinese laboratory were "speculative" and called for a science-based inquiry.

Mr Pompeo said on Sunday that there was "a significant amount of evidence" that the virus had emerged from a lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan, but did not dispute US intelligence agencies' conclusion that it was not man-made.

Dr Mike Ryan, WHO's top emergencies expert, told an online press conference from Geneva: "We have not received any data-specific evidence from the US government relating to the purported origin of the virus. So from our perspective, this remains speculative."

Dr Ryan said the WHO was keen to receive any information on the origin of the virus as this was "exceptionally important" for its future control. "So if that data and evidence is available, it will be for the US government to decide whether and when it can be shared," he said.

Scientists have advised the WHO that genome sequencing shows the virus to be of "natural origin".

Dr Ryan said science, not politics, should be at the heart of exchanges with Chinese scientists on the issue, warning against projecting an "aggressive investigation of wrongdoing".

Meanwhile, the European Union will put forward a proposal to the World Health Assembly calling for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus, according to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The assembly will consider the proposal at its May 18 meeting, Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra yesterday. He added that he had written to all Group of 20 leaders this week in his bid to create support for the investigation into how the virus started and spread.

Australia's previous calls for the probe have raised the ire of China, its largest trading partner.

Mr Morrison said: "What's really important is that we have a proper review, an independent review which looks into the sources of these things in a transparent way."

The inquiry would help the world deal with the emergence of the next virus that has "pandemic potential", he said, adding that his nation's health experts believed the coronavirus originated in a wildlife wet market in Wuhan.

In the US, President Donald Trump has accused Beijing of deliberately mishandling the outbreak that has killed more than 4,600 Chinese citizens to damage him politically and promised a "conclusive" report on the virus' origins.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2020, with the headline 'WHO says Pompeo's 'evidence' on origin of virus is speculative'. Subscribe