GENEVA (Dispatches) -- A top World Health Organization official has said the WHO cannot compel China to divulge more data on the origins of COVID-19, while adding it will propose studies needed to take understanding of where the virus emerged to the “next level”.
Asked by a reporter how the WHO will “compel” China to be more open, Mike Ryan, director of the agency’s emergencies program, said at a news conference that the “WHO doesn’t have the power to compel anyone in this regard.”
“We fully expect cooperation, input and support of all of our member states in that endeavor,” Ryan said.
There are competing theories that the virus jumped from animals, possibly starting with bats, to humans, or that it escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
The hypothesis that the virus was accidentally leaked from the Wuhan lab was largely disregarded by scientists in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak. China has repeatedly denied that the lab was responsible for the outbreak.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters have consistently amplified conspiracy theories that China deliberately leaked the virus.
Then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted last year that there was “significant evidence” that the virus came from the lab, while releasing no proof and acknowledging that there was no certainty.
On Monday, the Chinese Embassy in the United States decried the allegations as baseless, saying scientists are the party who should figure out the origin of the virus rather than intelligence services.
“The origins of COVID19 is a matter of science and should be jointly studied by scientists worldwide, rather than be politicized. Any conclusion must be drawn in line with WHO procedures and following science-base methods,” Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the embassy, said in a tweet.
The embassy even went on to draw an analogy between the lab leak claims and the debunked U.S. allegations of WMD stockpiles in Iraq prior to the launch of war on the Middle Eastern country.
“The campaign to politicize the study of origins and smear China is no different from the lies about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) 12 years ago,” he added.
The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple then dictator Saddam Hussein under the pretext of dismantling Saddam’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Later investigations into the Iraq war in Britain, a key ally of U.S. in the war, proved that the invasion had relied on fabricated intelligence about the existence of WMD in Iraq.