US officials air concerns about WHO's Covid-19 origin report

The convoy carrying the World Health Organisation team arrives at the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Wuhan, on Feb 1, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Top Biden administration officials on Sunday (March 28) expressed concern about the way a pivotal report examining the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic was crafted, including the possibility that the Chinese government had a hand in writing it.

The Geneva-based World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the findings from its mission to Wuhan, China, in early 2021 will be ready in a few days. The report had been expected earlier in March.

The US has "real concerns about the methodology and the process" of the report, including that the Chinese government "apparently helped to write it", Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on CNN.

While there needs to be "accountability for the past", the focus should be on building a stronger system for the future, Mr Blinken said on "State of the Union".

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases specialist, said he didn't know if the report would be a "whitewash" when asked about it on CBS, and said he wouldn't pre-judge the conclusions.

"What I would like to do is first see the report," said Dr Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on "Face the Nation".

"You're getting a lot of conjecture around about what they did and what they were allowed to do or not."

"If, in fact, obviously, there was a lot of restrictions on the ability of the people who went there to really take a look, then I'm going to have some considerable concern about that."

Pressuring China

The Biden administration has maintained pressure on China and the WHO for weeks over what it has portrayed as a flawed investigation.

"We do not believe that China has made available sufficient original data into how this pandemic began to spread both in China and then eventually around the world," US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Feb 21.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday that the US was concerned about a lack of transparency and data in the preparation of that report.

"We'll have to take a look at it and make sure we have access to the underlying information," Ms Psaki said in a press briefing.

She reiterated a call for an international investigation into the pandemic and "the lack of transparency from the Chinese."

Dr Robert Redfield, who led the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the first year of the pandemic, told CNN in a clip that aired on Friday that he thinks the coronavirus originated in a Wuhan lab.

That scenario is more likely than any alternative, including that the virus erupted after transferring from animals to humans or in a live-animal market, Dr Redfield said.

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