Americas, Latest on coronavirus outbreak

US calls for 2nd phase of study into origins of novel coronavirus

US health secretary also calls for inclusion of Taiwan at World Health Assembly, drawing criticism from China

Peter Kenny   | 26.05.2021
US calls for 2nd phase of study into origins of novel coronavirus A healthcare worker is stocking samples as people line up for free COVID-19 test ahead of Thanksgiving in Queens of New York City, United States on November 18, 2020. ( Tayfun Coşkun - Anadolu Agency )

GENEVA 

The US health secretary called for a second phase study into the origins of the novel coronavirus Tuesday but made no mention of a pandemic treaty supported by the European Union and the head of the World Health Organization (WHO). 

"Phase 2 of the COVID origins study must be launched with terms of reference that are transparent, science-based and give international experts the independence to fully assess the source of the virus and the early days of the outbreak," said Xavier Becerra, who spoke virtually on the second day of the World Health Assembly (WHA).

In March, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus called for further studies after the release of an inconclusive report on an international team's field visit to Wuhan, China to research the origins of COVID-19, citing difficulties accessing raw data.

The US official also reiterated the US demand for the inclusion of Taiwan as an observer at the WHA.

Global collaboration

"Global collaboration will be key in tackling the many challenges still before us. Collaboration with non-state actors must continue, and we must invite Taiwan to be a part of the World Health Assembly as an observer," said Becerra.

China's Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Chen Xu, later Tuesday attacked the US and Japanese delegations for calling for Taiwan's inclusion as an observer the day after the WHA had rejected the call.

He said they were challenging the "one China principle," which he said Taiwan refuses to accept.

"China protests and resolutely opposes this," said Chen, asserting that China views Taiwan as one of its provinces.

"Some countries manipulated Taiwan-related issues in order to create two Chinas," said the Chinese envoy, and were interfering in China's internal issues and "would never succeed."

Becerra spoke the day after Tedros Ghebreyesus expressed his "deep appreciation" to President Joe Biden for reversing the decision to take the United States out of the WHO and for donating $4 billion to the COVAX Facility, a global risk-sharing mechanism that seeks to procure, equitably allocate and deliver 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021 to less-developed countries.

He also thanked the US for its announcement that it will donate 80 million vaccine doses globally – the largest contribution announced – and for supporting discussions on an intellectual property waiver on vaccines.

Accountability and oversight

Becerra also called for improved global triggers so all countries take swift action toward the next biological threat with strong accountability and oversight.

"And we must also do more to understand our current pandemic and look forward toward detecting, preparing and responding to future biological threats," said the US official.

He made no mention however of a pandemic treaty touted to help fight any future pandemic.

US Vice President Kamala Harris had said last week in a virtual speech for the Global Health Assembly in Rome that the Biden administration understands the intent of a treaty, but it "believes that we need to first strengthen our foundation."

Tedros had said Monday that "we can only address that fundamental weakness with a binding commitment between nations to provide a solid foundation for enhanced cooperation – a treaty on pandemic preparedness and response that can address the challenges."

The head of the EU delegation to the UN in Geneva, Lotte Knudsen, told the WHA that neither individual governments nor the global community can entirely prevent pandemics.

"This is why we are committed to work towards an international treaty on pandemics that would promote political commitment at the highest level," said Knudsen.

China, Russia and the United States have been absent from discussions on the pandemic treaty.

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