Beijing says WHO has found no evidence coronavirus was man-made

Beijing says the WHO has found no evidence coronavirus was man-made as it fends off accusations it was created in a Chinese lab

  • China today invoked WHO findings to douse accusations the coronavirus was created at a state-run laboratory in Wuhan, the epicentre of the disease
  • It comes after the Trump administration urged China ‘to come clean’
  • Donald Trump halted $500m in funding for the UN health agency on Tuesday 
  • WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called it ‘regrettable’ at a time when the world ought ‘to be united in our common struggle’ 
  • WHO has been accused of colluding with Beijing in covering up extent of virus  
  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

Beijing today said the WHO has found no evidence coronavirus was man-made, fending off accusations that it was created in a Chinese lab.

President Donald Trump said yesterday his government was ‘doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation,’ while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Chinese ‘need to come clean’ on what they know.

But China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told Thursday’s daily briefing that WHO officials ‘have said multiple times there is no evidence the new coronavirus was created in a laboratory.’

It comes after scrutiny on Wuhan’s Institute of Virology – first reported on by the MailOnline in January – came to head this week after The Washington Post published leaked State Department cables warning of the lab’s safety standards in 2015.  

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Chinese President Xi jinping before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in January. By the time of this meeting the WHO was already parroting erroneous information about the virus fed to it by Beijing

President Donald Trump speaking at the White House on Wednesday. He halted $500 million in funding for the WHO this week, saying the UN agency had ‘failed in its basic duty’

Trump halted $500 million of funding to the WHO this week and slammed the body that had ‘failed in its basic duty’ in its response to coronavirus. 

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he ‘regretted’ the president’s decision and told a press conference yesterday ‘this is a time for all of us to be united in our common struggle.’ 

Critics of the UN health agency point to its uncritical parroting of Chinese government data, early claims that the disease was not spreading person-to-person, and praise for the country’s leaders as evidence that it was not fulfilling its role 

It comes as the number of people infected by COVID-19 worldwide soared to more than two million on Thursday, with more than 139,000 deaths.

The source of the virus remains a mystery. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday that U.S. intelligence indicates that the coronavirus likely occurred naturally, as opposed to being created in a laboratory in China, but there is no certainty either way.

Fox News reported on Wednesday that the virus originated in a Wuhan laboratory not as a bioweapon, but as part of China’s effort to demonstrate that its efforts to identify and combat viruses are equal to or greater than the capabilities of the United States. 

Researchers work in a lab of Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, Hubei province, China in February 2017. Reports have suggested lax safety standards there led to someone getting infected and appearing at a nearby ‘wet’ market, where the virus began to spread

This report and others have suggested the Wuhan lab where virology experiments take place and lax safety standards there led to someone getting infected and appearing at a nearby ‘wet’ market, where the virus began to spread.

At a White House news conference Trump was asked about the reports of the virus escaping from the Wuhan lab, and he said he was aware of them.

‘We are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation that happened,’ he said.

Asked if he had raised the subject in his conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump said: ‘I don’t want to discuss what I talked to him about the laboratory, I just don’t want to discuss, it’s inappropriate right now.’

Trump has sought to stress strong U.S. ties with China during the pandemic as the United States has relied on China for personal protection equipment desperately needed by American medical workers.

As far back as February, the Chinese state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology dismissed rumours that the virus may have been artificially synthesized at one of its laboratories or perhaps escaped from such a facility.

Pompeo, in a Fox News Channel interview after Trump’s news conference, said ‘we know this virus originated in Wuhan, China,’ and that the Institute of Virology is only a handful of miles away from the wet market.

‘The Chinese government needs to come clean,’ Mike Pompeo told Fox News this week (pictured at a White House press briefing earlier this month)

‘We really need the Chinese government to open up’ and help explain ‘exactly how this virus spread,’ said Pompeo.

‘The Chinese government needs to come clean,’ he said.

The broad scientific consensus holds that SARS-CoV-2, the virus’ official name, originated in bats.

Trump and other officials have expressed deep skepticism of China’s officially declared death toll from the virus of around 3,000 people, when the United States has a death toll of more than 20,000 and rising.

He returned to the subject on Wednesday, saying the United States has more cases ‘because we do more reporting.’

‘Do you really believe those numbers in this vast country called China, and that they have a certain number of cases and a certain number of deaths; does anybody really believe that?’ he said. 

No human-to-human transmission, no travel bans, but plenty of praise for Beijing: How WHO parroted Chinese lies as coronavirus pandemic unfolded

By Chris Pleasance 

The World Heath Organisation has found itself with serious questions to answer after President Trump accused the UN agency of ‘severely mismanaging’ its response to the coronavirus pandemic and withheld $500million in funding.

The WHO has been spearheading global efforts to fight the virus, but has come under attack for playing along with China as the country sought to minimise its initial outbreak and the threat the disease posed.

Critics point to its uncritical parroting of Chinese government data, early claims that the disease was not spreading person-to-person, and praise for the country’s leaders as evidence that it was not fulfilling its role.

Trump – who is facing heavy criticism for his own response – has blasted the WHO for advising against travel bans, which he claims ‘accelerated the pandemic all around the world’, and called for an investigation.

Here, the Mail Online has tracked key WHO statements about coronavirus – from the first cases, through China’s outbreak, and beyond – to reveal what the world’s largest health body said and when as the disease spread…

Donald Trump gives a briefing at the White House on Tuesday announcing that he will suspend all US funding to the World Health Organisation 

December 31 – China first reports a cluster of unusual pneumonia cases in Wuhan to the WHO

January 4 – WHO tweets about ‘a cluster of pneumonia cases’ in Wuhan with no deaths, saying investigations into the cause are underway

January 5 – The WHO issues its first guidance on ‘pneumonia of unknown cause’, saying there are a total of 44 patients and 11 in severe condition. The main symptom is listed as fever, with ‘a few patients having difficulty breathing’ 

The WHO says there is ‘no evidence of human-to-human transmission’ and that ‘no health care worker infections have been reported’

January 7 – China says it has identified the cause of the pneumonia as a ‘novel coronavirus’, initially named 2019-nCoV by the WHO

China first reported cases of ‘pneumonia of unknown cause’ to the WHO on December 31, and the agency put out its first tweet on January 4 saying the cause was being investigated

January 9 – The WHO praises China for identifying the new virus ‘in a short space of time’ and repeats its assessment that the virus ‘does not transmit readily between people’. It also advises against travel or trade restrictions on China

January 13 – The WHO says it is now working with authorities in Thailand after reports of a case there, and may call a meeting of the Emergency Committee

January 14 – The WHO tweets saying there is ‘no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission in China’, though later clarifies and says there may have been limited transmission via family members

Jan 20-21 – WHO’s field team in China conducts a brief field visit to epicentre Wuhan

Jan 21 – The first case is confirmed on US soil in Washington, in a person who had travelled from China a week before

Jan 22 – A report from the WHO team sent to Wuhan notes ‘human-to-human’ transmission is taking place, but says more research is needed to assess ‘the full extent’. The report notes confirmed infections in 16 medics, a clear sign of transmission from patients

The team recommends avoiding large gatherings, isolating infected people, and a focus on washing hands as the best way to combat the virus’s spread

The same day, that WHO Emergency Committee convenes for the first time. Afterwards, Dr Tedros says he has spoken with the Chinese Minister for Health, and praises the government for its ‘invaluable’ efforts to halt the virus. He calls a second meeting for the following day

Jan 23 – With the Emergency Committee split, Dr Tedros says he has decided not to declare the virus a public health emergency of international concern. Referencing the lockdown of Wuhan, which was announced the same day, he says he hopes ‘it will be effective and short in duration’. He praises China’s ‘cooperation and transparency’ in tackling the virus

Dr Tedros says there is limited evidence of human-to-human transmission, mostly among families or doctors treating the virus. At this point, there are 584 confirmed cases and 17 deaths globally, including in Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Thailand and the US

He recommends screening at airports and tells countries to put testing facilities in place, but stops short of recommending a travel ban

On January 14, more than a month after the first infections at this seafood market are thought to have taken place, the WHO tweeted saying China had found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission

Jan 28 – Dr Tedros and other senior WHO officials meet Xi Jinping in China, agreeing that a panel of experts should be sent to monitor the outbreak. He praises ‘the seriousness with which China is taking this outbreak, especially the commitment from top leadership and the transparency they have demonstrated’

Jan 29 – Dr Tedros gives a speech praising China’s efforts to contain the virus, saying the country ‘deserves our gratitude and respect’ for locking down swathes of the country to prevent the spread.

He notes a few cases of human-to-human spread outside China, which he says ‘is of grave concern’ and will be monitored closely

Jan 30 – The WHO Emergency Committee reconvenes early and declares a public health emergency of international concern. It comes after confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission in Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the US

Dr Tedros again praises China for ‘setting a new standard for outbreak response’ with its lockdowns, and says the small number of cases outside the country – 98 – is ‘thanks to their efforts’

Despite noting that a majority of cases outside China have a history of travel to or from Wuhan, he again recommends no measures to curb international travel or trade

Jan 31 – Donald Trump announces travel restrictions on people coming from China

Feb 3 – Dr Tedros gives a speech to the WHO updating on coronavirus, saying there are 17,238 cases in China and 361 deaths – now thought to be an under-estimate

He praises Xi Jinping for his individual leadership, and insists that cases outside China ‘can be managed’ if world authorities work together and follow recommendations which include – no ban on travel or trade, supporting countries with weak health systems, investment in vaccines and diagnosis, combating disinformation and urgent reviews of emergency preparedness

Feb 7 – Dr Li Wenliang, a doctor who first reported the existence of coronavirus and was initially silenced by China, dies from the virus

Feb 10 – The WHO’s team of experts arrives in China to assist with the outbreak

Feb 11 – The WHO names the disease caused by the virus COVID-19, saying it avoided including a geographical name because it risks ‘stigmatizing’ people. It says it will not be using the name SARS-CoV-2 because it risks causing ‘unnecessary fear’ by linking it to the 2003 SARS outbreak

Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Secretary-General, pleaded for world leaders to refrain from politicising the virus ‘unless you want more body bags’

Feb 12 – Dr Tedros says the number of new cases being reported in China has ‘stabilised’ but adds that it must be ‘interpreted with extreme caution’ and the outbreak ‘could still go in any direction’

Feb 16-24 – WHO team of experts convenes in China, visiting affected sites and sharing information on the best ways to tackle the crisis

Feb 17 – Dr Tedros begins chairing daily updates on the coronavirus response, with each briefing beginning with an update on the number of infections including from China, which are repeated without caveats

He give an analysis of Chinese data on some 44,000 confirmed cases. He says the data shows that 80 per cent of cases are mild, 14 per cent lead to severe disease, and 2 per cent are fatal. The disease is more severe in older people, with the young largely spared.

He urges world leaders not to ‘squander’ a window of opportunity to get ahead of the virus and prevent it from spreading

Feb 26 – Donald Trump announces a dedicated coronavirus response team, which Mike Pence will lead

Feb 28 – The team of WHO experts delivers its first report on the coronavirus. Among its major findings are that the disease likely came from bats, that it is spread through close contact with infected people and not through the air, and that most common symptoms include fever, dry cough and fatigue

The report praises China’s response as ‘perhaps the most ambitious, agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history’ saying lockdowns were achieved ‘due to the deep commitment of the Chinese people to collective action’ and had achieved a rapid decline in cases

Mar 9 – The whole of Italy is placed on lockdown as the virus spreads, the first European nation to enter total lockdown

Mar 11 – The WHO declares coronavirus a pandemic, meaning it is spreading out of control in multiple locations around the world. At this point, cases have been reported in more than 100 countries

Mar 13 – WHO says Europe is now the new epicentre of the virus after cases increase steeply, with Dr Tedros noting ‘more cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic’

Mar 19 – China reports no new domestic infections from coronavirus since the pandemic began

The pandemic has now infected some 2million people worldwide, with 128,000 confirmed deaths (pictured, a hospital in Italy)

Mar 20 – Dr Tedros issues a warning that ‘young people are not invincible’ to the virus after data from outside showed  large numbers of people under the age of 50 ending up in intensive care 

Mar 25 – As Donald Trump begins touting hydroxychloroquine as a potential coronavirus treatment, WHO warns that no drugs have so far been approved for treating the virus

The same day the organization calls for an extra $2billion in funding to help tackle the virus

Apr 3 – As millions of US citizens sign on for unemployment benefit, Dr Tedros and the IMF call for debt relief and social welfare to help people through the pandemic

Apr 6 – The WHO updates its guidance on masks to say they are effective at stopping spread of the virus, but must be used in conjunction with other methods. 

It comes after the CDC updated its guidance to advise people to wear masks in public

Apr 8 – Following Trump’s first barrage of criticism for the WHO, Dr Tedros urges world leaders to ‘stop politicising the pandemic’ unless they want ‘more body bags’

Apr 13 – A group of scientists convened by WHO to research a vaccine for coronavirus issue a joint statement urging world leaders to keep listening to the scientific community when responding to the virus 

How the man running World Health Organisation trashed by Trump as China-centric is a career politician who worked for a Communist junta and became WHO’s first NON-doctor Director-General ‘following intense lobbying from Beijing’ 

By Chris Pleasance 

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a little-known figure before the coronavirus pandemic, has risen to prominence as Director-General of the World Health Organisation which is spearheading global responses to the virus.

Dr Tedros – who has never practised as a medical doctor – is a career politician who was born in what is now Eritrea, began work under the Communist Derg junta, came to study in the UK, then rose to the top of Ethiopia’s government first as Health Minister and then Foreign Minister before being elected to lead the WHO in 2017.

He is now facing heavy criticism over his handling of the pandemic, especially for praise he heaped on China’s communist party for its response – hailing the regime’s ‘commitment to transparency’ and saying the speed with which it detected the virus was ‘beyond words’.

That has led to allegations – mostly recently made by Donald Trump – that the WHO is ‘China-centric’, a position that the US President has promised to ‘look into’.

Dr Tedros (left) became the first African head of the WHO and the first non-medical doctor to hold the role when he was elected in 2017, amid allegations of heavy lobbying by China (pictured, Dr Tedros in Beijing shortly after his election)

Trump has threatened to suspend US funding to the WHO until an investigation has been carried out, while suggesting that they withheld information on the virus. 

Indeed, it is not the first time that Dr Tedros has been accused of cosying up to China. Shortly after his election victory in 2017, it was alleged that Chinese diplomats had been heavily involved in lobbying for him.

UN records also show that Chinese contributions to both Ethiopia’s aid budget and the WHO have substantially increased during times when he was in top leadership positions.

Shortly after his election to the WHO, a report in The Times said: ‘Chinese diplomats had campaigned hard for the Ethiopian, using Beijing’s financial clout and opaque aid budget to build support for him among developing countries.’

Dr Tedros – who is married and has five children – was born in 1965 in Asmara, which was part of Ethiopia at the time but is now in Eritrea. 

As a child he saw his younger brother die to an infection, which he believes was measles, which he later said spurred his determination to work on health and health policy.

Before ascending to the top ranks of the WHO, Dr Tedros studied in the UK and served Ethiopia’s ruling left-wing coalition as health minister and then as foreign minister (pictured in the role in 2015)

Dr Tedros was the first WHO head elected by member states, winning the ballot by a reported 133 votes to 50, with the near-unanimous backing of African states

He graduated from university in Ethiopia in 1986 with a degree in biology and went to work as a health official in the regime of Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, while the country was ruled by the Derg military junta.

According to the BBC, Dr Tedros then joined the hard-left TPLF – which started life as a Communist party and played a major role in overthrowing Mariam in 1991. It later became part of the EPRDF, a coalition of left-wing parties that ruled Ethiopia until last year.

Around the same time as Mariam’s ouster, Dr Tedros left Ethiopia and came to the UK where he studied at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, graduating with Masters of Science in Immunology of Infectious Diseases in 1992.

He then went on to study at the University of Nottingham, where he received a PhD in community health in 2000.

After this, he returned to Ethiopia where he joined the health ministry and rose through the ranks from regional health minister all the way to national Minister for Heath – a position he took up in 2005.

During his tenure, which lasted until 2012, he was widely praised for opening thousands of health centres, employing tens of thousands of medics, bringing down rates of HIV/AIDS, measles and malaria, as well as bringing information technology and the internet into the heath system.

In November 2012 he was promoted to Foreign Minister, and was widely hailed for helping to negotiate a boost in UN funding for Ethiopia, including as part of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.

Indeed, UN funding records show that around this time the country received millions in additional funding – including from China, which had previously given little or nothing to support the country.

In 2015 and 2016 China gave some $16million to Ethiopia in spending commitments and cash contributions, largely in support of food or refugee programmes.

In 2011, just before Dr Tedros took up the role, and in 2017, just after he left, China handed over another $44million in commitments and contributions.

Its total contributions outside of this period, dating back to the year 2000, were just $345,000. 

In 2017, Dr Tedros left the Ethiopian government and entered the running for Director-General of the WHO as the tenure of Dr Margaret Chan, a Canadian-Chinese physician, was coming to an end.

Dr Tedros quickly embroiled himself in controversy at the WHO by trying to appoint African dictator Robert Mugabe (pictured at a conference together in 2017, the year of the appointment) but eventually bowed to pressure and dropped it

The election was the first to take place under a system of polling all UN member states as part of a secret ballot. Previously, leaders were chosen by a closed-door vote of an executive committee.

Eventually the field was boiled down to two candidates – Dr Tedros and Briton Dr David Nabarro, a life-long physician who had helped lead UN responses to previous outbreaks including bird flu, the cholera outbreak in Haiti, and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Dr Tedros won the ballot by a reported 133 votes to 50, becoming the first African leader of the WHO and the first non-medic to hold the role. His victory came in part thanks to 50 out of 54 African states voting for him.

However, he quickly mired himself in controversy by recommending African dictator Robert Mugabe as a WHO Goodwill Ambassador, amid allegations he trying to repay favours granted during the election.

There were reports that the move was also intended to reward China, a long-time supporter of Mugabe, for using its influence to have him elected.

The Times added: ‘China has praised the authoritarian development model of Ethiopia’s regime, which rules under emergency powers and has put down pro-democracy protests.’

Dr Tedros (pictured with his family) was widely praised during his tenure as Ethiopia’s health minister for helping to lower rates of measles, malaria, and HIV/AIDS as well as building thousands of health centres and hiring thousands of medics

During the 2017 election itself, several groups within Ethiopia opposed Dr Tedros’s appointment due to his links with the TPLF and allegations that they stifled journalists and repressed minorities.

Dr Tedros was also accused of covering up three separate cholera outbreaks in 2006, 2008 and 2011 by mis-reporting it as ‘watery diarrhea’, allegations he dismissed as a ‘smear campaign’ by his British rival.

Following his election to the WHO, Dr Tedros vowed to reform the organisation by placing an emphasis on universal healthcare at its centre while also increasing funding.

Further UN funding records show that, during his tenure, assessed contributions to the WHO by China have also risen significantly – from roughly $23million in 2016 to $38million in 2019.

China has also committed to a further $57million in funding in 2020, though has yet to pay the balance.

Meanwhile funding from other major world economies – including the US, Russia, Japan and Germany – has remained largely flat or even fallen over the same period.

Assessed contributions make up only around a quarter of the WHO’s budget, the rest of which comes from donations. 

MailOnline has contacted the WHO for comment, but had not heard back at the time of publication. This site also reached out to the University of London and University of Nottingham to check biographical infomation on Dr Tedros, but had also not received a response.

Recent criticism of the WHO and Dr Tedros specifically stems from its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and in particular its perceived closeness to authorities in Beijing.

Dr Tedros visited Beijing himself back in January and spoke with President Xi about the country’s response, returning to give a speech that praised the regime’s transparency, the speed of its response, and credited it with saving lives both at home and overseas.

That is despite the fact that medics from Taiwan – which are not represented at the WHO since China claims it as part of its country – claimed to have raised concerns about the response as far back as December 2019.

Medics told the Financial Times that they had anecdotal evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus, something China was denying at the time and a key factor in turning the disease into a global pandemic.

The WHO Director is known for his hands-on approach, often personally visiting countries affected by disease outbreaks – including the Democratic Republic of Congo which was hit by Ebola in 2018 (pictured)

They claim this was reported to the WHO on December 31, but not shared with other countries. China itself did not report human-to-human transmission until almost a month later – January 20 – by which time the disease had began spreading throughout the country and across the world.

A petition calling for Dr Tedros’s resignation which began in Taiwan has now topped 750,000 signatures. 

China has also faced allegations it attempted to silence medics – including the now-deceased Dr Li Wenliang – who first reported on the disease, and covered up early cases.

At his Tuesday evening coronavirus briefing, Donald Trump took aim at the WHO, saying the US would consider suspending funding to the organisation until an investigation is carried out.

‘They called it wrong, they missed the call,’ he said, adding: ‘They should have known and they probably did know,’ suggesting the WHO was withholding information about the coronavirus.

‘The WHO, that’s the World Health Organization, receives vast amounts of money from the United States and we pay for a majority, the biggest portion of their money, and they actually criticized and disagreed with my travel ban at the time I did it,’ Trump said near the top of the briefing. 

‘And they were wrong. They’ve been wrong about a lot of things.

‘And they had a lot of information early and they didn’t want to – they seemed to be very China centric,’ he said.

Today Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, defended the organization.

He said: ‘We are now in an acute phase of the pandemic – now is not the time to cut back on funding.’

He also said his administration would look into whether the US would withdraw its $513m funding.

Coronavirus has now infected at least 1.4million worldwide and killed more than 80,000 – though these figures are widely believed to be under-estimates.

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