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U.S. Scientists Not Allowed Into China to Investigate Coronavirus: Pompeo

Newsweek logo Newsweek 23/04/2020 David Brennan
Mike Pompeo wearing a suit and tie: This file photo shows Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a press briefing at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on April 22, 2020. © NICHOLAS KAMM/POOL/AFP via Getty Images/Getty This file photo shows Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a press briefing at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on April 22, 2020.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accused China of not allowing American scientists to visit the country and investigate the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, delivering yet another attack on Beijing's handling of the crisis.

Pompeo told Fox News' The Ingraham Angle on Wednesday that China is not allowing "the transparency and openness we need" regarding the pandemic, which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and has now spread worldwide.

Pompeo has been among the most vocal critics of China over COVID-19, echoing President Donald Trump's attacks on Beijing and peddling a conspiracy theory suggesting the virus' may have originated in a scientific research lab in Wuhan. There is currently no evidence to support the theory, but this has not stopped Pompeo and Trump from alluding to it.

Pictures: Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak around the world 

Pompeo told host Laura Ingraham: "Even today, the Chinese government hasn't permitted American scientists to go into China, to go into not only the Wuhan lab but wherever it needs to go to learn about this virus, to learn about its origins."

Pompeo did not detail requests by U.S. scientists to visit China. Newsweek has contacted the State Department and the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. for clarification on any blocked visits.

Local officials in Wuhan and the central government in Beijing have been accused of suppressing early reports of the outbreak and failing to inform the World Health Organization (WHO) and other nations about the severity and scale of the novel coronavirus threat. Beijing is also alleged to have underreported the number of deaths from the outbreak.

China has dismissed American criticism as an effort to divert attention from Trump's bungling of the crisis. The president's messaging on the virus has been confused and contradictory, while he has repeatedly clashed with governors and scientific experts.

Trump initially suggested—without evidence—that the virus would soon dissipate in the U.S., and lauded China's response to the outbreak. He also touted his close relationship with President Xi Jinping, and cited a conversation with the Chinese leader to argue that COVID-19 would disappear as the U.S. moved into warmer months.

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The U.S. now has the highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths of any nation. As of Thursday, there have been 842,624 confirmed infections in the U.S. with 46,785 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University and as shown in the Statista graphic below. Though China's numbers are disputed, there have been 83,876 confirmed infections and 4,634 deaths.

The Trump administration has also directed its ire at the WHO, accusing the United Nations body of pandering to China and failing to ensure Beijing's transparency. "It is the World Health Organization's responsibility to achieve that transparency." Pompeo argued. "They're not doing it. They need to be held accountable."

The U.S. is the largest contributor to the WHO budget, but Trump has now threatened to withdraw financial support for the organization. Many nations—including China—have explicitly or implicitly criticized the move, noting the importance of the multilateral institution during a pandemic.

Trump has been accused of misrepresenting the WHO's performance during the crisis. The president framed the body as opposing his restrictions on travel from China—measures that were not, as Trump claimed, a total ban—but the organization did not publicly criticize the move.

The president said the WHO was too slow to recognize the danger of human-to-human transmission of the virus, claiming there was evidence of it in December. PolitiFact noted that this is inaccurate, and that evidence of such transmission was not clear until mid-January, when China notified the international community.

China and Xi have been accused of sitting on the vital information for six days in January, even as millions of people traveled inside China and abroad in the run-up to Lunar New Year.

In pics: Signs displayed around the world amid COVID-19 outbreak 

 The Trump administration has not explained how the WHO could have been aware of human-to-human transmission without the Chinese having shared the findings, though it appears the organization may have been too trusting of Beijing's assurances. The WHO was privately warning world leaders of the possibility of human-to-human transmission even before the Chinese admitted it.

The president has suggested that WHO teams should have been on the ground in China faster to study the virus. However, China did not agree to allow WHO doctors and epidemiologists to visit the country until mid-February, by which time the outbreak was already well on its way to being a pandemic.

Before this, WHO staff conducted a brief field visit to Wuhan from January 20 to 23 and convened a subsequent emergency meeting to consider whether the virus constituted a public health emergency of international concern—a declaration issued on January 30.

Nonetheless, Trump allies have lambasted the WHO for its perceived failings. Pompeo suggested Wednesday that the U.S. may demand the resignation of Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus or perhaps "even more than that." He explained, "It may be the case that the United States can never return to underwriting, having U.S. taxpayer dollars go to the WHO."

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