A growing diplomatic row over a World Health Organization fact-finding mission into the origins of Covid-19 escalated Sunday as China said the U.S. had “gravely damaged” international cooperation on the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. had “severely undermined multilateral institutions, including the WHO,” the Chinese Embassy in Washington said in a statement. It appeared to be referring to the notification that U.S. would withdraw from the organization last July — a decision reversed by the Biden administration.
They had “gravely damaged international cooperation on Covid-19,” the statement said, adding that the U.S. was “acting as if none of this had ever happened,” while “pointing fingers at other countries who have been faithfully supporting the WHO.”
“With such a track record, how can it win the confidence of the whole world,” it added.
The statement was released less than 24 hours after White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. had “deep concerns” about the way the findings of the WHO’s investigation into were communicated.
“It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government,” he said in a statement. “To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak.”
The U.K.’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also said Sunday that Britain shared concerns that the investigators “get full co-operation and they get the answers they need.”
“We’ll be pushing for [the WHO mission] to have full access, get all the data it needs to be able to answer the questions that I think most people want to hear answered around the outbreak, the causes,” he told the BBC. “And that’s important, not for geopolitical point-scoring or anything like that, but so we can learn the lessons and prevent it ever happening again.”
The four week probe in China earlier this year, was plagued by delays, concern over access and bickering between Beijing and Washington.
After they released their preliminary findings last week, Dominic Dwyer, an Australian infectious diseases expert on the WHO team, told Reuters on Saturday they had requested raw patient data on 174 cases that China had identified from the early phase of the outbreak in Wuhan, as well as other cases, but were only provided with a summary.
His comments came after other media reports suggested that investigators had been denied data they requested during their trip.
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However, another member of the team, Prof. John Watson told the BBC on Sunday that “a great deal of data” was provided to them by the Chinese and that criticism over what information was handed over did not “characterise the mission as a whole.”
Peter Daszak, a British zoologist also tweeted: “As lead of animal/environment working group I found trust & openness w/ my China counterpart,” adding that the team got access to critical new data throughout.
Thea Kølsen Fischer, a Danish member of the team, also tweeted that she and her colleagues built “a good relationship” with their Chinese counterparts.
The WHO said Friday it will publish the full final report of the team’s findings in the coming weeks.
Reuters contributed to this report.