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Blinken meets with WHO director to reaffirm US support for second investigation into Covid outbreak

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Blinken and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus met in Kuwait almost a week after China announced it would not participate in the second phase of WHO research on the origins of the virus after health organization, the possibility of the virus escaping from a laboratory in Wuhan, China was included.

“Secretary Blinken affirmed US support for WHO’s plans to conduct additional studies on the origins of COVID-19, including the People’s Republic of China, to better understand the current pandemic and prevent it from futures, ”State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. . Blinken “stressed the need for the next phase to be timely, evidence-based, transparent, expert-led, and interference-free,” Price said.

The coronavirus is one of several areas of stress between China and the US. As the two try to recalibrate and balance an increasingly fragile relationship, the Biden administration has worked to move closer to Beijing with a united front of allies.

On Wednesday, Blinken also “stressed the importance of meeting the international community on this issue of critical concern and reiterated our support for a broader multilateral approach to global health security,” the statement continued.

For its part, Beijing said last week that it would not participate in a second investigation into the origins of the pandemic and refuted allegations of denying access by WHO researchers to locations or data during the first investigation of the pandemic. world health organization. Zeng Yixin, deputy director of the National Health Commission, told a July 22 press conference in Beijing that he was “surprised” to see the laboratory leaked as a research target in the second phase of the investigation.

“In some respects, the WHO’s plan for the next phase of research into the origin of the coronavirus does not respect common sense and is against science. It is impossible for us to accept that plan,” he said.

Most scientists studying coronaviruses who have investigated the origins of the pandemic say the evidence strongly supports a natural origin, a thesis that reinforces current intelligence, sources told CNN. This does not rule out the possibility that the virus was the result of an accidental leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where research on coronavirus in bats was being conducted, although many scientists familiar with the research say that this leak is unlikely.

Administration officials and scientists stress that understanding how the virus began is a key piece of the puzzle, as global health experts try to curb and eventually stop a scourge that, according to Johns Hopkins University, has sickened more than 195 million people and caused more than four million lives worldwide and now threatens to claim even more as it develops new dangerous mutations.
The WHO released an initial report of his research on the origins of Covid-19 in March, in which he determined that the virus probably originated in an animal before spreading to humans by December 2019.

But the same month, the WHO released the report, a member of the WHO team who helped oversee the original research said the theory that the virus had leaked from a laboratory Wuhan “did not receive the same depth of attention and work” as the hypothesis that jumped at people from an animal.

A growing number of Western nations began to question the completeness of the original report, in part because Beijing had refused to cooperate with the investigation.

In May, President Joe Biden announced that he was leading the American intelligence community to perform a 90-day review to the origins of the pandemic after a U.S. intelligence report found that several researchers at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill in November 2019 and had to be hospitalized.
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“I have asked for areas of further research that may be needed, including questions specific to China,” Biden said at the time, saying he had asked for help from U.S. national labs and other agencies. Biden noted at the time that Western observers had not yet been granted access to key Chinese laboratories to determine “whether it was a disorderly experiment.”

In June, the leaders of the G7 summit in Cornwall, England, he made a call for a new study on the origins of the virus. And on July 15, Tedros joined these requests for China to cooperate more fully with a new investigation, saying the former had been hampered by a lack of raw data from the early days of the pandemic.

“We call on China to be transparent and open and to cooperate,” he said at a news conference. “We owe it to the millions who suffered and the millions who died to find out what happened.”

At Wednesday’s meeting in Kuwait, Blinken and Tedros also discussed ways to work together “to continue reforming and strengthening the WHO, while building greater preparedness for the global pandemic and overall response capacity,” Price said .

Biden announced his first day in office retracting the Trump administration’s May decision to withdraw from the WHO.

Ben Westcott, Kylie Atwood, Katie Bo Williams, Natasha Bertrand, Zachary Cohen, Kate Sullivan, Donald Judd, Phil Mattingly and Jacqueline Howard contributed to this report.

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