Pompeo asks China to allow access to sensitive lab.
WASHINGTON: United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday pressed China to allow inspectors into sensitive laboratories, voicing concern about their security amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Pompeo has refused to rule out that the deadly virus leaked out of a laboratory in the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan, a scenario strenuously denied by Beijing.
“You have to remember — these labs are still open inside of China these labs that contain complexpathogens that were being studied. It’s not just the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Pompeo told reporters.
“It’s important that those materials are being handled in a safe and secure way such that there isn’t accidental release,” Pompeo told reporters. Pompeo cited the example of nuclear facilities, pointing to the rigorous global inspections to ensure safety. He renewed concerns that China has not shared a sample of the initially detected virus, known scientifically as SARS-CoV-2.
“We still do not have a sample of the virus, nor has the world had access to the facilities or other locations where this virus may have originally originated inside of Wuhan,” Pompeo said. Chinese authorities initially suppressed news of the deadly virus, including detaining a prominent whistleblower. Chinese scientists have since said that they suspect that the virus emerged late last year in a Wuhan meat market that butchered exotic animals.
But questions immediately arose because of the presence nearby of the maximum-security virology lab, with senior US officials bringing into the mainstream what was initially an online conspiracy theory. Critics say President Donald Trump is eager to deflect from blame over his own handling of the pandemic, which has killed some 45,000 people in the US, more than any other country.
Meanwhile, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday that all member nations of the World Health Organisation (WHO) should support a proposed inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic — a move that could further threaten ties with China.
Australia has become one of most forceful critics of Beijing for its handling of the spread of the coronavirus, with Morrison urging several world leaders to support an international inquiry into its origins and spread, as well as the WHO’s response.
The COVID-19 outbreak originated in China and has since spread to infect some 2.3 million people globally and killed nearly 160,000, according to Reuters calculations. Beijing has fiercely rejected calls for an inquiry, describing the efforts as U.S.-led propaganda against China.
Morrison said all members of the WHO should be obliged to participate in a review, adding that Australia would push for the inquiry during the WHO Assembly on May 17. “We’d like the world to be safer when it comes to viruses… I would hope that any other nation, be it China or anyone else, would share that objective,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
“The so-called independent inquiry proposed by Australia is in reality political manipulation,” said China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, speaking at a daily news briefing in Beijing on Thursday. … “We advise Australia to give up its ideological prejudices,” he said. —
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