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No basis to claims China withheld COVID-19 data: Chinese official

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Liang Wannian, the head of China's expert panel on the COVID-19 pandemic (photo by Reuters)

A senior Chinese health official has rejected allegations that Beijing withheld data from a team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying there is no factual basis to the claims.

Liang Wannian, the head of China's expert panel on the outbreak, made the remarks on Wednesday, after WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke of unspecified "difficulties" in gathering data.

Wannian told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday that the Chinese and international researchers had had access to the same data.

He also said the Chinese part of the joint research had now been completed, adding that the world now needed to look further into potential early cases of COVID-19 outside China in the next phase of its research into the origins of the pandemic.

In a briefing to the agency's member states on Tuesday, Tedros said WHO investigators who traveled to China to research the origins of COVID-19 had faced "difficulties" accessing some raw data during their four-week visit to the Chinese city of Wuhan in January.

"In my discussions with the team, they expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing raw data," Tedros said. "I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing."

On the same day, the United States and 13 other countries issued a joint statement expressing concern, and called for a transparent and independent analysis and evaluation.

The comments came after the team tasked with probing the origins of the coronavirus pandemic released its final report to the public.

The report, prepared by the experts appointed by the WHO and their Chinese counterparts, said the global pandemic probably came to humans from animals and that a laboratory origin of the pandemic was considered to be "extremely unlikely."

The WHO fact-finding mission arrived in Wuhan in January and visited key sites, including the Huanan seafood market, the location of the first known cluster of infections, as well as the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was said by some to have been the actual origin of the virus.

The institute and the Chinese government had already rejected the allegation.

Back in February, Peter Ben Embarek, the head of the WHO team, said Beijing had granted "full access" to all sites and personnel they had requested to conduct a comprehensive investigation.

Since the outbreak of the epidemic, the origin of the new coronavirus has been widely discussed online, and conspiracy theories have emerged around it.

The pandemic became a political tool at the hands of former US president Donald Trump, who routinely called the pathogen “the Wuhan virus.” Trump and his associates also claimed that there had been evidence that Beijing created the new coronavirus in the medical lab in the Chinese city, even though the US intelligence agencies said they had seen no such evidence.

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