All available evidence suggests coronavirus originated in animals in China late last year and was not manipulated or produced in a laboratory, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
- The WHO says evidence suggests coronavirus was not created in a lab
- China’s ambassador to the US has complained of “groundless accusations” made by politicians
- The WHO says it is 81 per cent funded for the next two years
US President Donald Trump said last week his Government was trying to determine whether the virus emanated from a lab in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus pandemic emerged in December.
“All available evidence suggests the virus has an animal origin and is not manipulated or constructed in a lab or somewhere else,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told a Geneva news briefing.
“It is probable, likely, that the virus is of animal origin.”
It was not clear, Ms Chaib added, how the virus had jumped the species barrier to humans but there had “certainly” been an intermediate animal host.
“It most likely has its ecological reservoir in bats but how the virus came from bats to humans is still to be seen and discovered,” she said.
She did not respond to a request to elaborate on whether it was possible the virus may have inadvertently escaped from a lab.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has dismissed suggestions both that it synthesised the virus or allowed it to escape.
‘Groundless accusations’ swipe aimed at Trump
Last month the US State Department summoned Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, to protest against Beijing’s suggestion the US military might have brought coronavirus to Wuhan.
Today Mr Cui took a thinly veiled swipe at Mr Trump, criticising politicians who make “groundless accusations” that distract from scientific information on the virus.
Mr Cui also defended China’s handling of the outbreak, which had drawn fire from Mr Trump and others who alleged Beijing failed to quickly and transparently alert the world to the risks of coronavirus.
Scientists do not know how coronavirus moved between animals and humans. (Flickr: US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)
“What worries me is indeed lack of transparency, not in terms of science, not in terms of medical treatment, but in terms of some of the political developments, especially here in the United States,” Mr Cui said.
“So little attention is paid to the views of the scientists as some politicians are so preoccupied in their efforts for stigmatisation, for groundless accusations,” he added.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment and the Chinese embassy did not reply when asked if Mr Cui was referring to Mr Trump.
WHO mostly funded for two more years
When asked about Mr Trump’s decision to halt US funding to the WHO due to its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Ms Chaib said: “We are still assessing the situation about the announcement by President Trump … and we will assess the situation and we will work with our partners to fill any gaps.”
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
“It is very important to continue what we are doing not only for COVID but for many, many, many, many other health programs,” she added, referring to action against polio, HIV and malaria among other diseases.
She said the WHO was 81 per cent funded for the next two years.
The United States had been the Geneva-based agency’s biggest donor.
Other big contributors are the Gates Foundation and Britain.