Prime Minister Boris Johnson told an environmental summit on Monday that the pandemic originates “from a collision between mankind and the natural world” which humanity should stop, Sky News reports.
In an implicit criticism of China, Johnson continued: “It is a zoonotic disease which originates in bats or pangolins, from the demented belief that if you grind up the scales of a pangolin you will somehow become more potent or whatever it is people believe.”
In response, Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, “Groundless conjecture or hype-up of the issue will only disrupt normal international cooperation on origin-tracing. Careful and meticulous studies are needed to discover the origin of the coronavirus outbreak.”
Despite coronavirus first being detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, a World Health Organization (WHO) team will only be permitted to visit the city for the first time on Thursday, despite trying for some time.
WHO has expressed frustration with delays which prevented its scientific team from travelling to China last week.
WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the team will focus on how the virus first jumped from animals to people. He said, “Studies will begin in Wuhan to identify the potential source of infection of the early cases.”
The row between London and Beijing comes as the British government publicly criticised China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims as “barbaric” and announced new measures to stop UK companies trading with Chinese firms connected to forced labour.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said there is clear evidence of “internment camps, forced labour, arbitrary detention, political re-education and forced sterilisation, all on an industrial scale. It is truly horrific”.