China UN envoy: beat pandemic before source probe

Geneva (AFP) –


China will not invite international experts to investigate the source of COVID-19 until after securing the "final victory" over the virus, Beijing's UN ambassador in Geneva said Wednesday.

China's priority is first beating the pandemic -- and secondly countering the "absurd and ridiculous" US politicisation of the new coronavirus, Chen Xu told reporters in an online briefing.

The World Health Organization says it is waiting on an invitation from China to take part in its investigations into the animal origins of the virus, first reported in the city of Wuhan in December.

Asked when the WHO could expect an invitation, Chen replied: "The top priority, for the time being, is to focus on the fight against the pandemic until we win the final victory.

"It's not that we are allergic to any kind of investigations, inquiries or evaluations," he said, as they could aid international efforts to prepare for future public health emergencies.

"For whether or how the invitation will take place, we need to have the right priority setting at this moment, and on the other hand, we need the right atmosphere."

Chen said the atmosphere had been soured by "politically-motivated" accusations against China, "smearing, demonising" its handling of the initial outbreak.

US President Donald Trump has been increasingly critical, saying last week he had seen evidence linking COVID-19 to a maximum-security virology lab in Wuhan and threatening new trade tariffs.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that there was "enormous evidence" showing that the new coronavirus originated in the Wuhan lab.

- US mindset 'constant problem' -

"It's really alarming for a high-ranking official... to air views like this," countered Chen.

"Some of the American politicians, the mindset is a constant problem. They adopted an approach that is against anything from China.

"We cannot allow this kind of political virus to spread freely without any curbing.

"We need to focus firstly to save lives, secondly to stop the political virus."

More than 250,000 people have been killed by COVID-19. The United States is the worst-hit country with more than 70,000 deaths.

Chen said Trump and Pompeo's allegations about the source of the virus were simply them trying to "shift responsibility".

"The purpose is only deflection of their own failure at this moment to curb the spreading of the virus in the United States," the ambassador said.

Trump has accused the WHO of being too close to China and of having mismanaged and covered up the spread of the virus.

Chen offered full support to the UN health agency and insisted there was no question of its director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus having been "influenced by China".