SHANGHAI, June 17 (Reuters) – A senior Chinese expert said the United States should be a priority in the next phase of investigations into the origin of COVID-19 after a study showed the disease was circulating there as early as December 2019 could. State media announced on Thursday.
The study, released this week by the US National Institutes for Health (NIH) showed that weeks before the first official cases, at least seven people in five different US states were infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that COVID-19 causes reported.
Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist for the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the state-run tabloid Global Times that attention should now be drawn to the United States, which has been and is slow to test people in the early stages of the outbreak home to many biological laboratories.
“All bioweapons issues that the country has should be reviewed,” he was quoted as saying.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian commented on the study on Wednesday that it was now “obvious” that the COVID-19 outbreak has “multiple origins” and that other countries should work with the World Health Organization (WHO).
The origin of the pandemic has become a source of political tension between China and the United States, with a focus on the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is located in the city where the outbreak was first identified in late 2019.
A report from a US government national laboratory concluded that it was plausible that the virus had leaked from the Wuhan laboratory, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month.
A previous study has raised the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 could have been circulating in Europe as early as September, but experts said that doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t originate in China, where many SARS-like coronaviruses have been found wild.
Reporting by David Stanway and Samuel Shen
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