The US called on China on Monday to permit an expert team from the World Health Organization (WHO) to interview “caregivers, former patients and lab workers” in Wuhan.
This drew a rebuke from Beijing, where authorities are wary of the WHO mission turning into a political blame-game rather than a scientific investigation.
The team of WHO-led independent experts arrived on Jan 14 to determine the origins of the new coronavirus in Wuhan.
They are currently holding teleconferences with Chinese counterparts during a two-week quarantine before starting work on the ground, Reuters is reporting.
The US, which has accused China of hiding the full extent of its initial outbreak, has called for a “transparent” WHO-led investigation and criticised the terms of the visit, under which Chinese experts have exclusively done the first phase of research.
Garrett Grigsby of the US Department of Health and Human Services, who heads the American delegation, said China should share all scientific studies into animal, human and environmental samples taken from the seafood market in Wuhan, where the SARS-CoV-2 virus is believed to have emerged in late 2019.
Comparative analysis of such genetic data would help to “look for overlap and potential sources” of the outbreak that sparked the Covid-19 pandemic, he told WHO’s executive board.
“We have a solemn duty to ensure that this critical investigation is credible and is conducted objectively and transparently,” he said.
Sun Yang director-general of the health emergency response office of China’s National Health Commission, told the WHO board: “The virus origin studies are of a scientific nature. It needs coordination, cooperation. We must stop any political pressure.”
Australia’s delegation also called for the WHO team to have access to “relevant data, information and key locations”.
WHO emergency chief Mike Ryan told reporters last Friday: “It is a difficult task to fully establish the origins and sometimes it can take two or three or four attempts to be able to do that in different settings.”