While perhaps somewhat out of context, it appears US Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo was right when he accused Beijing of failing to provide, and in fact destroying, samples of the virus at the start of the outbreak.
The South China Morning Post reports that Liu Dengfeng, an official with the National Health Commission’s science and education department, confirmed China had ordered unauthorised laboratories to destroy samples of the new coronavirus in the early stage of the outbreak, but claimed these orders were given for biosafety reasons.
“The remarks made by some US officials were taken out of context and intended to confuse,” Liu said at a briefing in Beijing.
Liu claimed that when the illness was first reported in Wuhan, “national-level professional institutes” were working to identify the pathogen that was causing it:
“Based on comprehensive research and expert opinion, we decided to temporarily manage the pathogen causing the pneumonia as Class II – highly pathogenic – and imposed biosafety requirements on sample collection, transport and experimental activities, as well as destroying the samples,” he said.
However, SCMP reports that according to a provincial health commission notice issued in February, those handling virus samples were ordered not to provide them to any institutions or labs without approval. Unauthorised labs that obtained samples in the early stage of the outbreak had to destroy them or send them to a municipal center for disease control and prevention for storage.
Additionally, in what is an odd stream of admissions and clarifications, another senior official, Li Mingzhu, with the health commission’s international cooperation department, rejected other US claims about access early on, claiming that the WHO did not make any request to visit the lab during two trips to Wuhan, in January and February.
“The WHO has never made a request to visit a certain laboratory, so the statement that the WHO was denied a visit to the Wuhan laboratory is untrue,” Li said.
So one wonders what exactly WHO was doing there, if it went at all. Of course, we would expect Tedros to fully corroborate these reports.
The odd timing of these ‘clarifications’ and simplicity of their claims makes one wonder why China had not simply announced this two or three months ago? What could they have had to hide if, as they said today, this was all “in line with Chinese standard practices”?