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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: April 7, 2021 - 6:09pm

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

April 7, 2021 - 6:09pm

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state Gujarat becomes the latest to tighten coronavirus curbs as India's infections surge to a record of almost 116,000 new cases in 24 hours.

Experts blame the country's fresh wave on people ignoring guidelines and attending huge religious and political events, as well as weddings and cricket matches in recent months.

India has now recorded 12.8 million cases, the third-highest behind the United States and Brazil, although those nations have much smaller populations. More than 166,000 Indians have died. — AFP

April 7, 2021 - 9:24am

Brazil registers more than 4,000 Covid-19 deaths in 24 hours for the first time Tuesday, the health ministry says, as the country reeled from a surge of infections that has made it the current epicenter of the pandemic.

The coronavirus claimed 4,195 lives in the deadliest day of the pandemic yet for the hard-hit country, whose total reported death toll is now nearly 337,000, second only to the United States.

Brazil's health system is buckling under the strain of the latest virus wave, which has forced doctors into agonizing decisions over which patients to give life-saving care and led cemeteries to hold nighttime burials to deal with the crush of coffins. —  AFP

April 4, 2021 - 9:17am

Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez, who has been vaccinated against Covid-19, announced late Friday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

"At the end of today, after presenting a fever of 37.3 (99 Fahrenheit) and a slight headache, I performed an antigen test, which was positive," he tweeted.

A PCR test later confirmed the diagnosis.

The president, who turned 62 on Friday, was in isolation as a precaution but said he was "physically well."

"Although I would have liked to end my birthday without this news, I am also in good spirits," he said. — AFP

April 3, 2021 - 1:03pm

Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez, who has been vaccinated against COVID-19, announces that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

"At the end of today, after presenting a fever of 37.3 and a slight headache, I performed an antigen test, which was positive," he tweets, adding he was waiting for the results of a PCR test to confirm the diagnosis. — AFP

April 3, 2021 - 9:16am

Latin America and the Caribbean pass the 25 million mark for recorded coronavirus cases as a surge in infections saw countries place restrictions on travel and movement while vaccine campaigns catch up.

An AFP tally showed the region reaching the grim milestone of 25,001,533 infections, putting it in third place after Europe with 44.2 million cases and the United States and Canada with over 31.5 million.

The death toll for Latin America and the Caribbean exceeded 788,000, according to AFP's count, second only to Europe which has lost some 936,000 people in the pandemic. — AFP

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