China 'systematically prevented' probe into Covid-19 origins, says US as WHO team begins work
The United States State Department has released a fact sheet on the activity at Institute of Virology in China's Wuhan, the city where the outbreak was first reported late last year.
In the fact sheet, the state department has accused the Chinese government of "systematically preventing" a transparent and thorough investigation into the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic. It also said that the Communist Party of China devoted enormous resources to deceit and disinformation.
The fact sheet is divided in three parts - illnesses inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the research there and Secret military activity at the institute.
The fact sheet said that the US government has "reason to believe" that several researchers inside the Wuhan institute became sick in autumn of 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak. "This," the state department said, "raises questions about the credibility of WIV senior researcher Shi Zhengli’s public claim that there was 'zero infection' among the WIV’s staff and students of SARS-CoV-2 or SARS-related viruses."
It also said that accidental infections in labs have caused several previous virus outbreaks in China.
The Communist Party in China prevented independent journalists, investigators, and global health authorities from interviewing researchers, which the fact sheet said is crucial for inquiry into the origin of the virus.
The state department document came out on a day when a team of international experts of the World Health Organisation (WHO) arrived in China to investigate the origins of Covid-19.
"WHO investigators must have access to the records of the WIV’s work on bat and other coronaviruses before the Covid-19 outbreak. As part of a thorough inquiry, they must have a full accounting of why the WIV altered and then removed online records of its work with RaTG13 and other viruses," the state department said.
The fact sheet added that in 201the researchers at WIV were conducting experiment involving RaTG13, the bat coronavirus identified in January 2020 as its closest sample to Sars-CoV-2.
"Despite the WIV presenting itself as a civilian institution, the United States has determined that the WIV has collaborated on publications and secret projects with China’s military. The WIV has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017," the state department said.
It also said that the United States will continue to do everything it can to support a credible and thorough investigation.
The WHO team, meanwhile, has started its work by holding virtual meetings with their Chinese hosts from a hotel in Wuhan, where the pandemic first emerged.
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