Pompeo renews calls for China to provide US access to Wuhan labs

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday renewed calls for the U.S. to have access to Chinese virology labs in Wuhan, part of the Trump administration’s effort to investigate the origins of the coronavirus.

The U.S. and China are in a war of words over the outbreak of COVID-19, which was first detected in Wuhan, with Washington calling for probes into Beijing’s role in the outbreak and accusing the Chinese Communist Party of covering up the virus threat early on.

“We still haven’t gained access, the world hasn’t gained access to the [Wuhan Institute of Virology],” Pompeo said in a briefing with reporters at the State Department. “We don’t know precisely where this virus originated from.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have said the first cases of the coronavirus were first detected in people associated with an animal market in the city of Wuhan, China, saying the virus likely originated in bats.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology is situated near the market where the virus outbreak was first detected.

Researchers have said the strain of the virus in COVID-19 makes it unlikely that it is manmade.

Pompeo also called on China to be transparent about its safety regulations and precautions at such institutions.

“There are multiple labs that are continuing to conduct work, we think continue on contagious pathogens inside of China today,” he said. “And we don’t know if they are operating at a level of security to prevent this from happening again.”

Pompeo said having access to the labs was akin to conducting oversight of nuclear facilities.

Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Tuesday requested the State Department provide information about its response to diplomatic cables reportedly sent in 2018 that raised the alarm over safety hazards at the lab. The senators said U.S. diplomats warned that the lab had “severe safety and management weaknesses.”

President Trump on April 15 said the U.S. had launched “serious investigations” into China’s role in the spread of the coronavirus.

“We are not happy with China,” he said during a press briefing. “We believe it could have been stopped at the source, it could have been stopped quickly, and it wouldn’t have spread all over the world.”

The U.S. in January first called for China to allow CDC experts to examine and investigate the origins of the virus.

In February, representatives from the CDC and the National Institutes of Health joined a WHO-sponsored delegation to China to evaluate the Chinese response to the coronavirus outbreak. The Wuhan Institute of Virology was not listed on the itinerary.

Updated at 1:53 p.m.

Tags CDC China Chris Murphy Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Ed Markey Mike Pompeo Pandemic State Department WHO

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