Biden official says WHO needs to dig deeper on coronavirus origins

A member of the World Health Organisation visits an exhibition on how China fought the coronavirus in Wuhan, on Jan 30, 2021.
A member of the World Health Organisation visits an exhibition on how China fought the coronavirus in Wuhan, on Jan 30, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - United States President Joe Biden's national security adviser on Sunday (Feb 21) urged the World Health Organisation (WHO) to dig deeper and China to release raw data on the origins of the Covid-19 virus, casting doubt on the completeness of a coming report from the health organisation.

"The only way to have a scientifically based investigation is to have access to all the data," Mr Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said on Face The Nation on CBS, calling for "a credible, open, transparent international investigation led by the World Health Organisation".

The WHO sent a team of investigators, mostly scientists, to China for four weeks over January and February to investigate the origins of the virus. The team said after returning to the US that Chinese scientists refused to give them access to patient records and other critical data.

The investigators are already working on a preliminary report, but Mr Sullivan said more research was needed.

"The WHO still has more work to do to get to the bottom of exactly where this virus emerged," he said.

Towards the end of the show on which Mr Sullivan aired his concerns, Mr Matthew Pottinger, ex-US president Donald Trump's former deputy national security adviser, made an appearance in which he continued to advance a discredited theory promoted by the previous administration and challenged by many scientists - that Covid-19 was the product of secret Chinese military experimentation in a lab in Wuhan, China.

While acknowledging some of the Trump administration's "grave missteps", such as not advising the American public soon enough to wear masks and not doing enough collection and analysis about the how the virus was spreading and evolving genetically, Mr Pottinger said China misled US public health experts by not disclosing that the virus could spread silently, carried by people who did not show symptoms.

"We were waiting to be fed information when the nature of that regime meant that we were not going to get that information," Mr Pottinger said. "They had a strong incentive to mislead their own public and the rest of the world about the nature of this virus."

During his appearance, Mr Sullivan lamented a decision by the Trump administration to dismantle a special White House office that the Obama administration set up inside the National Security Council to detect and address pandemics.

And Mr Pottinger said that, based on the Covid-19 experience, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention should establish "a new super body for pandemic preparedness and response", with the person in charge attached to the White House.

Both men said that the US intelligence community should have played a greater role in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Sullivan said the Biden administration would be increasing "its tools, its resources, its practices to focus on detecting, preventing and responding to pandemics".

Mr Pottinger, a former Marine intelligence officer who resigned from the Trump administration after Mr Trump's supporters invaded the Capitol on Jan 6, said: "I don't think that the intelligence community is going to be able to do more than that critical role of collecting and analysing the information."