China "rebuffed" US efforts to get experts on the ground at the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak to help contain its spread, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has alleged.
"This president and this administration worked diligently to get Americans on the ground there in China, to help the World Health Organisation try to get in there as well. We were rebuffed," Pompeo said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The Chinese government wouldn't let it happen, indeed just the opposite of transparency. They kicked American journalists out and denied access to American and other Western scientists at the time that it was frankly most critical that we understand what was going on there,” he said.
US officials were part of the WHO expert team delegation that travelled to China. "Upon arrival, the delegation travelled in groups to several locations, but Americans were not among those who travelled to Wuhan,” a State Department spokesperson said.
The US, the spokesperson said, continues to engage with the WHO to insist that the organisation undertake substantive reform and encourage it to play its mandated global coordination role.
"As Secretary Pompeo has repeatedly said, the United States supports multilateral organizations. We simply insist that they fulfil their missions, including demanding full transparency and information sharing and a willingness to speak the truth and hold member states accountable when they fail to comply,” the spokesperson said in response to a question.
The United States provided USD400 million to the WHO in FY-2019, including funding from the Department of State, USAID, and other US government agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services.
“FY 2020 is still underway. Previously obligated funding is not impacted by the current 60-90 day halt and review on new funding,” said the spokesperson.
“The review process is under development, and will include all relevant US government departments and agencies,” said the spokesperson in response to a question.
Meanwhile, Senators Chris Murphy and Ed Markey, both members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Tuesday called on Pompeo for answers as to why key public health positions based in China were eliminated and why warnings of safety and management concerns at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) were not taken seriously.
“Understanding what happened at the WIV is critical to keeping Americans safe. We urgently need to fully understand the origins of this pandemic because the next pandemic will not wait,” they wrote.
“Indeed, if COVID-19 did accidentally escape from this lab, we need to understand what happened and how this could have been prevented, and work with the World Health Organisation to ensure the security and safe management of sensitive bioresearch laboratories,” the senators said.
“Even if the COVID-19 pandemic originated naturally through animal-to-human transmission, as many scientists believe, the State Department cables suggest the risk of a new virus emerging from a laboratory due to lax safety procedures or other accidental release remains high,” they wrote.