US demands ‘robust’ virus origin probe as pandemic surges worldwide

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States (US) demanded a “robust and clear” international probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, as a team of World Health Organization (WHO) experts in China waited yesterday for the green light to begin its long-awaited COVID-19 probe.

The call came as coronavirus infections shot past 100 million and governments scrambled to get their hands on scarce vaccine doses, with a bitter row erupting between the European Union (EU) and Britain over the supply of AstraZeneca shots.

Beijing has so far frustrated international efforts to track the origins of the virus, which has killed more than 2.1 million people globally, and only recently allowed the WHO team into China after repeated delays.

“It’s imperative that we get to the bottom of the early days of the pandemic in China, and we’ve been supportive of an international investigation that we feel should be robust and clear,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Wednesday.

US President Joe Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump had enraged China by accusing it of a botched response to the initial outbreak in Wuhan, and had led calls for an independent investigation.

China has sought to deflect blame for the massive global human and economic toll by suggesting – without proof – that the virus emerged somewhere else.

The highly anticipated WHO mission was expected to begin its work under tight security yesterday as team members finished their 14-day quarantine after arriving in China.

WHO team members about to clear quarantine outside the Jade Boutique in Wuhan. PHOTO: AFP