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The outburst follows US President Joe Biden’s announcement on Wednesday that he has asked the “intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyse information” about the origins of the Covid-19 virus, including whether it emerged from animals or from a laboratory accident.
The first case of Covid-19 was reported from China before it spread across the world. Many leaders in the US, including former president Donald Trump, routinely called it “the China virus”. Biden has asked for a report on it in 90 days.
|China has accused the US of 'politicising' the investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic after President Joe Biden asked for a review of US intelligence findings [File: Johannes Eisele/AFP]|
In a statement, China’s embassy to the US said: “Lately, some people have played the old trick of political hype on the origin tracing of Covid-19 in the world, according to Independent UK.
“Smear campaign and blame-shifting are making a comeback, and the conspiracy theory of ‘lab leak’ is resurfacing. Since the outbreak of Covid-19 last year, some political forces have been fixated on political manipulation and blame game, while ignoring their people’s urgent need to fight the pandemic and the international demand for cooperation on this front.”
U.S. intelligence agencies told NBC News in February they had not ruled out the possibility that a lab accident had led to a leak of the virus. A source familiar with the matter said this week that a U.S. intelligence report had identified three researchers at the Wuhan lab who sought treatment at a hospital after falling ill in November 2019.
|Photo: Getty Images|
China's ruling Communist Party has been criticized by some world leaders and scientists for not raising the international alarm quickly enough over the outbreak and for reprimanding Wuhan doctors who did so, among them Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist who later died of the virus, NBC reported.
China's response to Biden's probe statement comes after more than a year of blame-trading between Washington and Beijing over whether China bears responsibility for the pandemic that was first identified in Wuhan in late 2019.
While the Biden administration has not employed the same racist rhetoric as former President Donald Trump did, his White House has maintained pressure on China to be more transparent about what it knew and when.
Despite the exchanges, it's important that political leaders in all countries get to the bottom of the virus' origins, virologist Dr. Cheryl Walter at England's University of Hull said.
"We must do everything in our power and that potentially includes at a political level to prevent another pandemic like this from arising," she said. "Transparency from countries including government and research laboratories in those countries is so important."
In a statement late Wednesday, which does not name Biden as is customary for Chinese officials who avoid directly attacking the president, the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., also hit out at "smear" campaigns and "blame shifting" in heated language last heard in exchanges between Chinese officials and Trump.
The embassy also dismissed the Wuhan lab leak theory as a "conspiracy" and called for a "comprehensive study of all early cases of Covid-19 found worldwide."
Officials in Beijing point out that the U.S., meanwhile, has registered almost 600,000 deaths, and has been accused of a dangerously disorganized response to the crisis, particularly under Trump.
‘A comprehensive study’
|The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was linked to early Covid cases Photo: Getty Images|
China has stepped up efforts to control the narrative surrounding the pandemic after successfully suppressing the virus in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where what was then a mysterious new viral pneumonia was first detected towards the end of 2019.
Whistle-blowers, journalists and the families of those who died have come under pressure. Dr Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist who was one of the first to warn the public about the virus, was detained by police for spreading “rumours”. In December, citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer, was accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and sentenced to four years in prison for her work in the early days of the outbreak. Others also face trial on similar charges, according to Al Jazeera.
The Chinese embassy said it supports “a comprehensive study of all early cases of COVID-19 found worldwide and a thorough investigation into some secretive bases and biological laboratories all over the world.”
The Global Times tabloid, part of the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper group, said late on Wednesday that if the “lab leak theory” was to be further investigated, the US should also allow investigators into its own facilities, including the lab at Fort Detrick.
“Very clearly they are trying to internationalise their way out of the jam they are in,” said Jamie Metzl, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think-tank, who has been campaigning for a new independent investigation.
A joint China-WHO study published in March said that it was highly improbable that SARS-CoV-2 leaked from the lab, adding that it most likely spread from bats to humans via an as yet unidentified intermediary species.
China has also continued to point to the possibility that COVID-19 originated elsewhere and entered the country via an infection carried on frozen food or through wildlife trade networks in southeastern China.
“The pandemic started in China,” Metzl said. “Let’s start with a full investigation there and expand as necessary. In short, this [statement from the embassy] is an outrageous insult to every person who has died from this terrible tragedy and their families.”
Huang of CFR said further investigations into the origins of COVID-19 were at an “impasse”.
“Ideally you want China to be more cooperative and more transparent,” Huang said. “But now the issue has become so politicised, with the stakes of the investigation so high.”
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