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WHO says has no proof from US on 'speculative' Wuhan lab claims
An aerial view shows the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 17, 2020. The P4 epidemiological laboratory was built in co-operation with French bio-industrial firm Institut Merieux and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The facility is among a handful of labs around the world cleared to handle Class 4 pathogens (P4) - dangerous viruses that pose a high risk of person-to-person transmission.
AFP/Hector Retamal

WHO says has no proof from US on 'speculative' Wuhan lab claims

Nina Larson (Agence France-Presse) - May 5, 2020 - 8:36am

GENEVA, Switzerland — The World Health Organization said Monday that Washington had provided no evidence to support "speculative" claims by the US president that the new coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab. 

"We have not received any data or specific evidence from the United States government relating to the purported origin of the virus — so from our perspective, this remains speculative," WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a virtual briefing.

Scientists believe the killer virus jumped from animals to humans, emerging in China late last year, possibly from a market in Wuhan selling exotic animals for meat.

But US President Donald Trump, increasingly critical of China's management of the first outbreak, claims to have proof it started in a Wuhan laboratory.

And US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday said "enormous evidence" backed up that claim, which China has vehemently denied.

"Like any evidence-based organisation, we would be very willing to receive any information that purports to the origin of the virus," Ryan said, stressing that this was "a very important piece of public health information for future control.

"If that data and evidence is available, then it will be for the United States government to decide whether and when it can be shared, but it is difficult for the WHO to operate in an information vacuum in that regard," he added.

Science at the centre

The UN health agency — which has also faced scathing criticism from Trump over accusations it initially downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak to shield China — has repeatedly said the virus clearly appears to have originated naturally from an animal source.

WHO expert Maria Van Kerkhove stressed during Monday's briefing that there were some 15,000 full genome sequences of the novel coronavirus available, and "from all of the evidence that we have seen... this virus is of natural origin".

While coronaviruses generally originate in bats, both Van Kerkhove and Ryan stressed the importance of discovering how the virus that causes COVID-19 crossed over to humans, and what animal served as an "intermediary host" along the way.

"We need to understand more about that natural origin, and particularly about intermediate hosts," Ryan said.

It was important to know "so that we can put in place the right public health and animal-human interface policies that will prevent this happening again", he stressed.

The WHO said last week it wanted to be invited to take part in Chinese investigations into the animal origins of the pandemic, which in a matter of months has killed nearly 250,000 people worldwide.

"We have offered, as we do with every case in every country, assistance with carrying out those investigations," Ryan said Monday.

"We can learn from Chinese scientists," he said.

But he warned that if questions about the virus origin were "projected as aggressive investigation of wrongdoing, than I believe that's much more difficult to deal with. That is a political issue.

"Science needs to be at the centre," he said.

"If we have a science-based investigation and a science-based enquiry as to what the origin species and the intermediate species are, then that will benefit everybody on the planet." 

NOVEL CORONAVIRUS WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 16, 2021 - 7:52am

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

June 16, 2021 - 7:52am

The US death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 600,000 on Tuesday, although officials hailed progress towards a return to normality as its world-leading vaccination program promised to turn the page on one of the worst health crises in American history.

The United States has racked up by far the largest national death toll  ahead of Brazil and India  after a heavily-criticized early response to the pandemic, but has since organized among the world's most effective immunization drives.

Progress against the coronavirus was underlined as New York announced more than 70 percent of adults had received at least one vaccine dose and the last of the state's restrictions could be lifted.

"There's still too many lives being lost," President Joe Biden said, noting that despite the daily number of dead dropping sharply, the continuing loss of life was still "a real tragedy." — AFP

June 14, 2021 - 7:22pm

The pandemic has killed at least 3,805,928 people worldwide since the virus first emerged in December 2019, according to an AFP compilation of official data at 1830 GMT. 

The US is the worst-affected country with 599,769 deaths, followed by Brazil with 487,401, India with 374,305, Mexico with 230,150, Peru with 188,708 and the United Kingdom with 127,904.

The figures are based on reports by health authorities in each country, but do not take into account upward revisions carried out later by statistical bodies. 

The WHO says up to three times more people have died directly or indirectly due to the pandemic than official figures suggest. —  AFP

June 13, 2021 - 4:12pm

The DOH logs 7,302 more COVID-19 cases, pushing the Philippines' tally to 1,315,639.

  • Recoveries: 7,701 new; 1,232,986 total
  • Deaths: 137 new; 22,788 total
  • Active cases: 59,865 or 4.6% of total
June 12, 2021 - 6:41pm

The government of Saudi Arabia will allow 60,000 vaccinated residents to perform hajj.

June 12, 2021 - 3:21pm

Queen Elizabeth II will recognize those responsible for Britain's successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout in her annual Birthday Honours list, Buckingham Palace says.

Sarah Gilbert, lead developer of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, and Kate Bingham, the former chair of Britain's vaccine taskforce, are both to receive damehoods -- one of the highest honours bestowed by the monarch. — AFP

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